Nora – Eleanor Sikorski, Flora Wellesley Wesley
Nora Invites Aggiss, Burrows, Fargion and Tanguy: BLOODY NORA!, Eleanor And Flora Music, Digging
London, Lilian Baylis Studio
27 November 2015
Gallery of pictures by Foteini Christofilopoulou
Eleanor Sikorski and Flora Wellesley Wesley have combined their performance and choreographic skills (and their first names) to form a duo called Nora. They were both at London Contemporary School (2006-2010) and were members of Edge, LCDS’s graduate performance group, before launching on freelance careers. Nora Invites is their first programme of commissions as a collaborative duo, a triple bill exploring their different personalities and physiques. (Their programme sheet lists an impressive number of supporting organisations and people.)
For Eleanor And Flora Music, their starting point was Both Sitting Duet, the gestural performance by Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion, based on Morton Feldman’s score For John Cage for violin and piano. Burrows and Fargion translated the music score into numbered counts and instructions, following Feldman’s metronome markings. Consulting their notebooks, they carry out a silent, seated conversation with their fingers, hands, arms, and sometimes feet. It’s a riveting, minimalist 40-minute performance by two obsessive middle-aged men.
Sikorski and Wesley have translated the score into danced movements – how precisely is impossible to tell, since the two of them are not as closely tied to their pages as Burrows and Fargion. When Wesley knocked over the music stand and scrambled the fallen pages, I suspected the rules of their engagement were as arbitrary as those for Radio 4’s Mornington Crescent.
They start and end with a voice-over rhythmically alternating the words ‘Flora’, ‘’Music’, ‘Eleanor’. In between, they move energetically around the stage in silence, apart from the sound of their breathing, footfalls and occasional little cries. They take it in turns to instigate bouts of action: Flora is playful in her floral top and red jeans, Eleanor more earnest and task-bound, with her glasses and schoolmarmish bun. But she’s willing to play pat-a-cake with Flora and slide wildly across the floor. Then she becomes fed up, sitting with her head in her hands while Flora writhes indefatigably in a solo.
Their timing isn’t rigorous, though they coincide neatly in foot and hand exchanges and unison passages. Where Burrows’ and Fargion’s confined gestures in Both Sitting become mesmerising, the girls’ free-ranging movements seem relentless, with rare passages of calm. They are immensely engaging, but nowhere near as disarming as the two workmanlike men.
Digging, the second work on the programme, is a commission from French choreographer Simon Tanguy, in collaboration with the duo. Like the first piece, it contrasts their qualities as they dance – and talk – in a continuous flow. Flora is frisky, super-supple, seductive, while Eleanor is more down-to-earth, a tomboy tumbler. As they flex, sway and contract, they discuss their feelings about us, the audience, the women are depicted in films, plants, fractals and democracy (among other topics). As they squirm voluptuously over each other, they wonder whether slowness is sexy, how women can ‘reclaim the erotic’, what might be acceptable, what makes them angry. Eleanor goes off in a riff of rage, while Flora tries to soothe her, before pondering how her own body works. An extract from a Samuel Beckett novel is quoted in the programme note, and the duo’s wittering about unresolvable issues has Beckettian echoes as the lights go down on one of their worries. Are they sharing intimate concerns with us because we are strangers, out there in the darkness?
Bloody Nora! Comes as a brash antidote to the confessional intimacy of Digging. Liz Aggiss drags the pair into her territory of vaudeville and pre-WWII German Expressionist dancing, celebrating female transgression with ironic humour. Draped in red capes, Sikorski and Wesley channel Mary Wigman, Hilde Holger and Niddy Impekoven, along with Max Wall and Martha Graham, as they perform cabaret turns to an iconoclastic collage of music. Billed as a tale of ‘hormonal imbalance’, the duo run through genteel euphemisms for menstruation before swearing like sailors as they execute a hornpipe (often performed at Royal Ballet School performances by junior boys).
Rude and funny (the title is an alternative to ‘Bloody Hell!’), the piece jars with the other commissions on the programme, which doesn’t quite work as a triple bill. Sikorski and Wesley start by presenting themselves informally, engaging with the audience as ‘real’ personae, then end as versions of early 20th century burlesque performers, without a context. Endearing, intelligent and enterprising, they’ll find the right format for Nora to flourish.