Dance Umbrella’s Shoreditch Takeover
Charles Linehan: The Shadow Drone Project
Vanessa Kisuule – poetry readings
Julie Cunningham: Rays, Spark, Beating Glows
Lisbeth Gruwez: Lisbeth Gruwez Dances Bob Dylan
London, Shoreditch Town Hall
Gallery of Julie Cunningham pictures by Foteini Christofilopoulou
Wrapping up Dance Umbrella, Shoreditch Takeover was a celebration of cross-disciplinary work. It featured two dance works, poetry and a film, not to mention a DJ for those who wanted to linger longer in the splendidly elegant chambers of Shoreditch Town Hall. In the spirit of DU’s innovative and diverse programming, each performance exposed fresh work by very different artists who inhabit independent rather than mainstream dance cultures.
Choreographer Charles Linehan’s film, The Shadow Drone Project, plays on a loop throughout the evening in the intimate Mayor’s Parlour. It’s a mesmerising interplay of colours, shadows, choreography and light. Filmed from above by drone technology at sunset and sunrise in four different international locations, we see the elongated shadows of both dancers and ordinary people as they dance, play or just go about their lives. Sometimes they interact with objects, such as boys with surf boards on a beach in Cyprus or a dancer in East Sussex manipulating ropes. We see trees, beaches and oceans, cities, a helipad and a harbour, in a variety of urban and rural scenes in Lithuania, Cyprus, Shanghai and Sussex.
The aerial viewpoint highlights the intricate patterns and formations of people and objects, from the structured and random to the pedestrian and dancerly. In one clip, a dancer is captured walking along a concrete quay somewhere in East Sussex in true Trisha Brown minimal, ambulatory style. Another frame reveals the incidental choreography of waves merging and crashing into each other, and a flock of birds landing on sand. What’s particularly arresting and rather alarming is the impression of intense heat that blasts off each frame as well as the extended shadows which visually dominate the actual people they represent.
While we tend to associate surveillance techniques with the military, espionage and the patrolling of borders, The Shadow Drone project moves away from those sinister associations to something that is artistic, choreographic and imaginative. Linehan’s inspired collaboration with Lithuanian photographer Karolis Janulis is perfect for both galleries and dance venues.
Bristol-based poet, writer and burlesque artist, Vanessa Kisuule exudes charisma, humour and seductive energy. Her readings are full of light, laughter and some sadness. Although they are autobiographical they touch all us listeners to the core. One poem about Kisuule’s Ugandan grandmother with whom she is unable to communicate as she’s “trapped by her British tongue”, is a touching reflection on cultural differences that can divide Black-British families. In another she reminisces about strawberries because of an ex-boyfriend who was a fruit farmer; then there’s a hilarious poem about drinking under age and a night out with her flat mates in an irreverent celebration of female friendship.
Kisuule’s language is vital and colourful, accessible and relevant, flowing off her tongue as fluidly as a phrase of released movement. She sprinkles each poem with personal anecdotes and witty asides. Mistress of the spoken word she blends the personal with the political in an upbeat dance of rhymes.
Julie Cunningham & Company’s Rays, Spark, Beating Glows is an intimate quartet for women in which Cunningham explores the relationships between movement and text. Inspired by the writing of French feminist Monique Wittig, Cunningham uses language to explore her body in collaboration with actor Anna Martine Freeman. Both women adapt elements of Wittig’s text to relate to them personally, their identity as lesbians, how they appear, move and the different worlds they inhabit.
The stage is littered with chairs and clothes in some disarray, like the end of a party. Dancers Hannah Burfield and Londiwe Khoza perform a clingy duet, oblivious to anyone else. They are fascinated with each other’s movements but seem strangely uninvolved. As they create abstract gestures or manipulate each other’s actions, they are unemotional and detached even when they touch. Compared to Freeman and Cunningham who are tortured souls searching for meaning and who relate to each other in a more visceral way, Burfield and Khoza appear two dimensional and bland.
Freeman and Cunningham at first engage in polarised role-play. Cunningham appears in a Lady Gaga wig and high heels, her exaggerated, slutty femininity contrasting to Freeman’s butch moodiness. Fragments of poetic text are tragically spoken by Freeman, as if she’s been wronged by her lover. Cunningham writhes suggestively in front of her, but it doesn’t work. Pulling off her wig and shoes, symbols of female repression, Cunningham is released from heterosexual bondage and ready to explore space, movement and language with Freeman. While there are odd moments of playful physical interaction, Cunningham’s freedom brings little pleasure. It’s all very serious and questioning.
Initially full of intrigue and potential in terms of exploring identity, the female body and the way in which patriarchal language pins it down, Rays, Sparks, Beating Glows loses momentum and becomes hard work to watch. Flashes of technical skill seem out of place and redundant. The two pairs of women operate in such colourless, isolated worlds, that even if they are exploring complex, theoretical notions of being female, I wish they could do so with more wickedness and fun.
The unbelievable joy in watching Lisbeth Gruwez dancing to Bob Dylan songs is largely to do with her musical interpretation. Gruwez, a choreographer and performer based in Belgium inhabits a selection of Dylan’s lesser known hits from the 60’s and 70’s played on vinyl by musician/composer Maarten Van Cauwenberghe, as if they were her most comfortable clothes. The work has a spontaneous flavour of two people united in their love for Dylan’s ballads, getting together late one evening, post party, to listen and dance to his music.
But there is no lip synching or literal translation in Guwez’s interpretation. Rather she reclaims them for herself and replaces Dylan’s identity – his distinctive voice and image with her own. Although she adds the odd literal gesture to certain lyrics, she recreates the mood of each song and makes it relevant to her articulate body. Every nuance of each track is explored with a gesture, a dynamic, a facial expression or simply silence. For one track she stands with her back to the audience, shaking. In another she’s positioned on the diagonal, her torso folded over her extended leg, arching and releasing her back. Her sinewy spine, stiff with tension one minute, is released in a wave of fluid action the next, displaying amazing virtuosic ability. A mixture of pedestrian and technical movement her vocabulary is varied and creative. She’s contained, yet highly expressive, as she abandons herself to the rhythms and beats, but never loses herself in the process.
Gruwez is a vulnerable figure, alone on the dark stage with a spot light but as she dances she fills the stage with her modest, engaging personality. Whether it’s the music that she connects with so deliciously or her performance presence that makes this dance a triumph, Gruwez is an unforgettable force to watch out for.