Shoreditch Takeover, Shoreditch Town Hall, London

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Shoreditch is the centre of cool in London at the moment, so you would expect its contribution to the Dance Umbrella Festival 2017 to be cutting edge and innovative. On both these counts it certainly delivers. Shoreditch Takeover is made up of four very different pieces, happening in separate spaces within the beautiful old building that is Shoreditch Town Hall. Twenty first century art within nineteenth century architecture.

First is Rays, Sparks and Beating Glows. This is choreographed by Julie Cunningham and is an intense piece, about gender and feminism, for four dancers. It is performed without music, although there is some spoken word towards the end.

Next is Vanessa Kinsuule, who is a wonderful poet. She is, witty, insightful, nostalgic and honest. She has a winning personality, who can really involve an audience and the introductions to the poems are almost as good as the poems themselves.  Her whole set is great and the poem about an evening, dancing at a nightclub, is a highlight.

The third set is Lizbeth Gruwez dances Bob Dylan, a personal interpretation, exploring the edges of dance. For “Knockin’ on Heavens Door”, Lizbeth stands with her back to the audience at the front of the stage and walks, slowly and beautifully, to the back. You haven’t seen minimalism in dance until you have watched this. The Bob Dylan tracks are played on vinyl and are quite scratchy at times, invoking images of drunk and stoned nights in 70’s bedsits.

The final work is a film, The Shadow Drone Project, cleverly filmed from above, where the actual bodies of the dancers can hardly be seen, but instead we watch their shadows interact with each other. Some of this appears choreographed and some not, blurring the line between formal dance and how our brains make patterns.

All in all, a varied and interesting night in a lovely venue, a good addition to the Dance Umbrella Festival 2017.

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Othello, Ambassadors Theatre, London. National Youth Theatre of Great Britain.

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This is a fantastic production of Othello. The adaptation, by Frantic Assembly, was first performed by the National Youth Theatre in 1996 and this is an updated revival of that show.  The action has been brought into a contemporary setting, a dodgy looking pub where the tension and bravado are palpable and only the tough survive. Othello’s army is a neighbourhood gang. Shakespeare’s language fits in surprisingly well and the themes feel current and accessible.

The opening is a long wordless dance sequence that sets the scene. Its shows us the relationships between the various gang members, and their place in the hierarchy. The choreography is energetic and modern. The, usually awkward, fight scenes are handled with aplomb. The set looks simple but even this is extraordinary and comes into its own in moments of heightened tension.

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Every actor is very good. Megan Burke is a hard-as-nails Emelia, who won’t be talked down when it comes to getting justice for her friend. Rebecca Hesketh-Smith is a sweet but upfront Desdemona. Curtis John Kemlo plays Roderigo as puny and weak, bringing an interesting new perspective to the role. Mohammed Mansaray, as Othello,  is tender in love and harsh in anger.  Jamie Rose steals the show as Iago, playing him as a shifty, cheeky chappie, with sly winks and gestures, letting the audience in on his secrets, while behaving abominably. I see a Bond villain in the making.

 

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Photos courtesy of Helen Murray

 

The director is Simon Pittman, he has done a remarkable job, drawing clear and strong performances from all the characters. The tempo is quick and up to date, but he is not afraid to pause the action to press a point. The closing scene is masterful.

This production is playing selected dates between now and December. The future of British theatre is here and playing at the Ambassadors Theatre.

The Pass (dir. Ben A. Williams) 2016

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The Pass is a film adaptation of a play that was a big hit when it played at the Royal Court Theatre in 2014. I have to imagine that it comes across better in the intimate surroundings of a small theatre. The premise is good, the timing is right for a movie about a closeted gay footballer, but this is not that movie. Had it been made in the 1970’s or 1980’s it would probably have been ground-breaking and interesting but at this moment we do not need a film about a selfish gay soccer star made bitter by the possibility that he might have missed out on true love.

The film is directed by Ben A. Williams and he sticks rigidly to the three act, three hotel room setting of the play. This increases the impression of it being a filmed version of a theatre play and puts another step between us and the action.

Although there are four characters in this film, two of them are two dimensional ciphers. The lap dancer, Lyndsey,  and the male groupie, Harry, are just there to use and be used. Ade, the player turned plumber, is well acted by Arinze Kene, but this film is ultimately about Jason, who is excellently portrayed by Russell Tovey. He develops into the true antihero, without a single redeeming feature. We watch him go from, a not particularly nice, 17 year old to, a harsh and vitriolic, 28 year old over the course of three acts. That is the real problem with this film, we never really liked him in the first place so we don’t really empathise with him.  He doesn’t care about anybody, he uses his wife, his child, his lap dancer, his fan and ultimately even his mate Ade. He chooses lifestyle over fulfilment, so when he is unfulfilled we aren’t particularly surprised or worried.

I had such high hopes for this film, it had so much going for it, and don’t let me take away from an outstanding performance by Russell Tovey, but so many movies made from the 1930s to the 1990s are full of flawed gay characters whose life is ruined by the fact that they can’t cope with the trauma of being queer, and I had hoped that we had moved on from that.

Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, London E1

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Rich Mix is a flexible, interesting venue, very handily located less than 100metres from Shoreditch High Street Overground Station. It has a theatre space and a bar on the 4th floor, holding around 100 people comfortably. The ground floor has a licensed bar in a space suitable for theatre, dance or live music and this area can accommodate many more. The first floor is a mezzanine, looking down over the stage. There are three cinema screens on the floors in between and there is also an Indian restaurant/café on the premises.

What really makes this venue, is the variety and diversity of the cultural events that are put on here. If you look at the programme for the coming month alone, there is theatre, dance, live bands, open mic nights, story-telling evenings, political events, family events, not to mention the films showing in the cinema, where it is one of the venues hosting the London Film Festival. It is also a venue for London Dance Umbrella Festival.

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There mezzanine doubles as an art gallery and currently hosts a multimedia exhibition: Black Pride.  Among upcoming exhibitions are “Hard to Read” bringing together art and poetry, and another depicting illustrations of Syrian refugees. There are weekend markets with different themes, one in December is specifically for independent potters and ceramicists.

An adaptable venue, embracing the local community, accommodating the art scene and enhancing London’s rich cultural diversity.

Trois Grandes Fugues, Lyon Opera Ballet, Sadler’s Wells, Islington, London

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Trois Grandes Fugues is a simple but clever idea. Three different choreographers take the same piece of music, in this case Beethoven’s “Die Grosse Fuge”, and bring their interpretation of it, to the stage. I came to the show not knowing the music and uninformed with regard to the language of dance.

The three dances are all completely different. The first is the most traditionally classical in its form. Lucinda Childs has six couples investigate the geometric patterns in the music. The dancers are dressed in simple grey figure hugging body suits, the dance is graceful, formal, mathematical and balletic.

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The next, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, has her 8 dancers, 6 men and 2 women, in dark suits with open necked white shirts. Formally dressed at first the jackets are removed and some of the shirts are opened as the dance moves on. Each dancer appears to be linked to different sections of the orchestra and they move across the stage, together or apart, each seemingly linked to their own particular instrument.

The final piece by Maguy Marin, has her dancers less formally dressed, in shades of red, and her interpretation is wilder, more emotional, and the four dancers emphasise the dramatic and canonical motifs. They follow each other round the stage in more staccato movements, showing the fierce energy and strife in Beethoven’s work.

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I like Beethoven, usually his pastoral pieces are more to my taste, having heard this 20 minute work three times, each time I enjoyed it more, and I will look out for it, to listen to at home. I had a fantastic evening and I felt like I had been given an introductory lesson into both classical music and dance.

Jekyll and Hyde, National Youth Theatre, Ambassadors Theatre, London

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The National Youth Theatre’s production of Jekyll and Hyde is a deconstruction of the original novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, rebuilt with a modern feminist twist by writer Evan Placey. Combining Victorian settings and morals with modern day language and values adds a new dimension to the duality theme of the story.

The decision to have a female Jekyll is not only brave but astute, and this production perfectly captures the zeitgeist with the discussion about sexism in film and theatre so much in the news. The writing is forthright, the jolt of the coarse language spoken by the Victorian ladies near the start of the play becomes clear in the second act, there is no doubt that Evan Placey is a talented author, of whom we will hear more in the future.

Aside from the writing there is much to recommend in this production. The acting throughout is accomplished. Jennifer Walsh in particular is excellent as Florence, a young adult coming to terms with the fact that although no one else is going to stand up for her, she has the power to stand up for herself.  Elizabeth McCafferty confidently makes the transitions between Jekyll and Hyde both striking and convincing. Mohammed Mansaray has a funny scene as a priest, which he delivers very well.

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The direction is brisk and contemporary, so that even in the midst of 19th century London, we feel linked to the current day. The director, Roy Alexander Weise, is not afraid to be confrontational, daring to breach our comfort zone in order that we feel the characters’ anger. The costume design is remarkable and clever, the ensemble changes from church house to flop house in the blink of an eye.

 

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Pictures courtesy of Nobby Clark

 

Jekyll and Hyde has a few rough edges, but challenging, thought provoking productions like this are exactly the remit of The National Youth Theatre and I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this show.

Out of the System, Rich Mix, Shoreditch, London

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Out of the System, part of a three year project from London’s Dance Umbrella Festival, is curated by Freddie Opoku-Addaie and runs at Rich Mix 16-17 October.

Made up of three very different dance pieces, there is something here for all tastes. The first piece “Clay” is a flamenco based collaboration between two dancers and a guitarist, the dancing is fantastic, filled with action and humour. I loved the way the two dancers played off each other and the way they slowly drew the guitarist in.

The second is a more interpretive piece, evocative, using symbolist props and occasional filmed backdrop. I have to admit that some of the symbolism went over my head, but the dancing is eloquent and emotional.

The third “Ven” is a double hander, with two harmonious dancers intertwining to dance almost as one person, clever and moving. The trust that the couple show in each other is beautiful, a truly symbiotic relationship.

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The evening is finished off with a live band,  The Afrobeat rhythms of Yaaba Funk had the whole audience dancing. All in all we had a very interesting evening in a great venue. The London Dance Umbrella Festival is running at different venues until the 28th of October and with the standard this high, I am looking forward to the other nights I have booked.