Ellas Crean Festival
AVA Dance Company – Evidencia
Compañia Lucia Marote – Downtango
Compañia Elephant in the Black Box – Weightlessness/ Gravity 0˚
Madrid, Teatro Conde Duque
11 March 2016
The high brick walls that surround the Conde Duque complex in central Madrid suggest a fortress and so it comes as no surprise to learn that this multipurpose cultural centre was once the barracks of Spain’s Royal Guard. The inner courtyards still channel an aura of the regimented discipline of their former parade ground purpose. Passing through the large archway into the biggest of these spaces brings with it a strange and compelling urge to march.
The sprawling building that surrounds these courtyards is a superb example of eighteenth century Madrilenian architecture – designed by Pedro de Ribero – although it transpires that much of the fabric was rebuilt after a devastating fire in the late nineteenth century. The military function lasted for over 250 years and the buildings have been used exclusively for culture, since 1983; undergoing a thorough refurbishment in 2011. The arts complex now houses a number of specialist libraries, a museum of contemporary art and theatre spaces, which host drama, music and dance.
Teatro Conde Duque is the largest performance space with a capacity of around 260 people in spacious and comfortable seating. Ellas Crean, which means “she creates”, is a six-week Festival held in the Conde Duque centre that commemorates and celebrates International Women’s Day. Now in its twelfth year, Ellas Crean features eighty multidisciplinary events, including many theatre, dance and music premieres. This particular dance triple bill was accompanied by a fascinating exhibition in the entrance vestibule about the Spanish suffragette movement.
The programme began with a meaningful duet choreographed by Avatâra Ayuso for AVA Dance Company. A native of Mallorca, Ayuso is an international performer and choreographer, now largely based in both the UK and Germany: she is an Associate Artist of both Arts Hellerau, Dresden and the Creative Academy in Slough; and, since 2007, she has been a regular performer with Shobana Jeyasingh Dance. On this occasion, however, she remained in the wings, creating dance for two young ballerinas, Ommaira Kangas and Bárbara Astorga, both graduates of the Carmina Ocaña/ Pablo Savoye Escuela de Baile in Madrid.
Evidencia is a shot of Baroque-infused, sexy dance that makes art move. Iconic Baroque paintings, suggested by Ayuso’s dramaturge, Ignacio Vleming, are recreated through snapshots of tableau in the dance. Visually, this provides an arresting series of vignettes, beginning with the soft, soothing movements of Kangas brushing Astorga’s hair, both dancers facing away from the audience, bathed in a soft pool of light. The lighting and set designs of Eugenia Morales are fundamental to realising the atmospheric beauty of Ayuso’s concept. A long length of silk hanging upstage-left appeared to change colour as the work progressed.
In keeping with the Ellas Crean theme, the music is a pick-and-mix of compositions by two Italian women: Francesca Caccini from the early Baroque period and Isabella Leonarda, a nun who was one of the most prolific composers of the mid-seventeenth century. As well as meeting the Festival’s brief for creative women, the choice of music (advised by Žak Ozmo) enhances the sumptuous, velvety, Baroque ethos that is central to Ayuso’s vision.
The big risk to the realisation of her concept lay in entrusting the duet to two young and inexperienced dancers. But, these Madrileñas proved to be an inspired and charismatic pairing, complimenting each other with a heady mix of sharp, classical ballet technique and sensual expressiveness in a performance that built upon the intuitive chemistry between two young women who have danced together throughout their developing years.
Having said all of this about Evidencia, I have left out the main ingredient of Ayuso’s choreography, which is to have themed the entire duet en pointe. We are just a few weeks away from the “She Said” programme of work by three female choreographers for English National Ballet; and here – in a festival entitled “She Creates”, in Tamara Rojo’s home city of Madrid – is an arresting new ballet by a woman choreographer we have hitherto seen exclusively as a maker of contemporary dance. Ayuso is clearly comfortable working in a neoclassical language and with Evidencia she stakes a claim to be in the sightlines of ballet companies looking for inspirational women choreographers.
The title of the middle work was more than a clue to its content. Downtango began with a collision of two women running across the stage, who then fell to the ground before performing a long, horizontal tango duet by levering themselves around the dance floor. It was a novel concept, appealing for a while, especially in terms of deconstructing tango movement to accommodate the loss of fluidity by effectively constraining one side of their bodies against the unyielding floor. The leg hooks were interesting!
Choreographer, Lucia Marote, and her partner, Poliana Lima, squeezed every possible permutation out of two bodies simulating tango movement while writhing around the stage in a 14-minute duet that required considerable strength and stamina. The added dimension of projecting overhead film of the floor-based dance onto a downstage screen failed to lift the performance after the repetitive movement began to dull my interest.
With some strange counter-intuitive logic, the final work in a festival all about creative women was made by a man! A former dancer with Paris Opera Ballet, Ballet de Monte Carlo and the Grands Ballets de Montreal, Jean-Philippe Dury has now formed Compañia Elephant in the Black Box and – on the basis of this work – is taking a choreographic trajectory far removed from ballet.
Weightlessness/ Gravity 0˚ is a theatrical work that depends less upon dance than visual drama. It begins with the arresting impact of a blonde woman’s apparently near-naked and lifeless body draped against the side of a bath. This effective, “Hitchcockian” imagery clung to the early part of the work, before it all got messy. The idea of suicide initially came to mind but the woman (Italian ballerina, Valentina Pedica) eventually began to move, proceeding into a long and disturbed solo that involved – amongst many indications of freefalling angst – daubing herself with the paint and dust that lay contained within a number of variously shaped canisters dotted about the stage.
Pedica is certainly an appealing performer but the awful mess that she created reminded me of the kind of contemporary art that involves throwing paint at a canvas and then riding a bicycle through it. Only here, Pedica’s body was both canvas and brush. Teresa Catalán’s score from La Danza de la Princesa (2010) was a compelling aural backdrop to Dury’s off-the-wall concept; but I found my thoughts turning to the unfortunate cleaners of Conde Duque long before the end.