The Associates of Sadler’s Wells
Kate Prince and Tommy Franzen, SMILE
Crystal Pite: A Picture of You Falling
Hofesh Shechter: the barbarians in love
London, Sadler’s Wells
6 February 2015
Gallery of pictures by Foteini Christofilopoulou
Sadler’s Wells’ idea of having Associate Artists has been a game changer for the theatre and also for dance in London, I think. For the theatre it’s about using its artistic diversity and audience strength to help produce exciting new work and increasingly to tour that work internationally. It’s not a fixed approach to supporting creatives but a collection of expertise in putting together shows, from sales and marketing to management and funding and it’s notably spread its wings this last year with Crystal Pite and English National Ballet (ENB) both becoming Associates. Pite, from Canada, was not incredibly well known in London when appointed but has been doing much elsewhere and it’s proved an inspired choice, with many after her skills and company – Kidd Pivot. It’s another move towards a more international persona by the Wells. And ENB joining the fold really underlines the package of support and access for the new that the Wells can deliver and ENB can’t themselves. Bravo to Alistair Spalding for all this good stuff and pushing forward with the new 500 seat theatre too. I digress but I’m just amazed there has been no meaningful response by the Southbank Centre or Barbican, both spaces noted for dance in the past and now rather looking out of it as theatres with a lust to cultivate the dance audience – which is not to say they don’t each put on some occasional and great dance shows. It will be interesting to see if the Royal Opera House does more with the artists and companies it helps put on, particularly in the Linbury Studio Theatre.
Most of the Wells Associates do their own discrete projects but this night of dance came about because Hofesh Shechter and ZooNation’s Kate Prince wanted to trial something different, in both cases associated with what will be longer shows. There is no link between the works, or Pite’s involvement in showing a reworked duet from a much longer piece. So, a night of dance that looked more than creatively interesting.
Kate Prince’s work, SMILE, is about Charlie Chaplin and was performed and choreographed by the much talented Tommy Franzén who looks to tour it with other works. Tommy Franzén Productions gets a big credit in the programme with Tommy listed as Executive producer, and also a Producer and an Assistant Producer involved. Besides those 4 there are 7 other creatives named for Smile. There are clever projections, a dressing-room set that moves and morphs, some clever lighting that has Tommy dancing with his shadows and a DJ Walde soundtrack that mixes nostalgic numbers like “Smile though your heart is breaking” and “It had to be you” with more moody electronic sounds. This is no budget bit of dance hastily put together. The driver for the piece, according to Kate Prince (in excellent programmes notes by Neil Norman), was wanting to do something different to “her customary sunny work.” And Chaplin is certainly a hell of a character to mine, for both fun, pathos and an interestingly troubled life. What we get are alternating scenes of Chaplin as he appeared on film – twee acting, cane, shrugs, playful dancing with an imaginary hatstand-coat-girlfriend, and what I assume is an attempt at deeper delving into the man himself and his psyche. It goes without saying that Franzén dances his socks off, but ultimately to no satisfying result. The funny sections are OK but not really strong and sustained enough to compete with the Chaplin you can still see on film and the attempt to look at a deeper level just seems generic and unspecific. Matthew Bourne, and of course Kenneth MacMillan both get to another level in making us care or understand troubled minds. All up, it felt in need of a lot of sharpening. I do hope that the piece, as presented, is not expanded into a larger part of what Franzén looks to tour.
Hofesh Shechter’s the barbarians in love is also part of a planned triple bill where he looks to concentrate on dancers: “I am trying to focus on the physicality of dancers in a more intimate way”, the programme quotes and that came to mind, if perhaps rather cheaply, at the end of his piece where the 6 dancers stand in line at the font of the stage, all nude, or semi nude. Certainly physical and intimate. The piece couples Shechter’s emphatic movement with the pleasingly formal Baroque music of Couperin. That’s the headline: the reality is that for much of the time there is an oppressive backing electronic thrum, that like tinnitus one often tunes out but then one annoyingly notices and can’t shake it off. And there is also much narrated text – at times with teasing titles of lessons or commandments, that the dance might amplify. Later there is a voice-over interview with Shechter about creating work. I might get more from it on another occasion but I can’t pretend it all added together to make a lot of sense or to bathe me in artistic happiness. But I was reminded yet again how different and tribal his movement is – inherently interesting, if too unsupported by discernible structure here. Be interesting to see how this piece might evolve and relate to the fuller evening – it rather felt unfinished.
If the brand new works were something of a disappointment then Crystal Pite’s A Picture of You Falling, created on her own company dancers in 2008, was the outstanding hit. A duet, it deconstructs some key moments of a relationship in forensic detail with 12 spot lights ranged around the stage to pick up and isolate specific memories. The deconstruction is driven by the snatched narrated thoughts of the lovers. With the narration the movement is often very literal, at one point with a slow motion and troubled falling over, and at other times just reeks of loaded emotion, the gestures of our deep feelings spilling out in both beautiful and distorted movement. And just as we repeat and play with our understandings of past events, and who said and did what, so do Pite and her dancers. Sometimes it’s the same, sometimes we all go off on an excursion to another side of the relationship. I’m sure I could watch this many times and still be intrigued and pick up on new things. It was a pleasure too to see Anne Plamondon and Peter Chu, the original creators, dance You Falling – skilled dancing from skilled communicators. And I wondered what Pite might wring from Tommy Franzén if they worked together. But then I think Pite working with any dancer is bound to be a very interesting thing at the moment.