Swan Lake Bath Ballet – Corey Baker & Friends: BBC Arts – Culture in Quarantine, 8 July 2020

A splashing piece of work

Odette? Sorry, I thought I was Bathilde. Boston Ballet’s Viktorina Kapitonova’s story doesn’t wash with me.

Not a version of Swan Lake by Bath Ballet (lovely though I’m sure that would have been), this is even better – Swan Lake in a bath tub. Several bath tubs. Bath tubs owned by dancers from the world’s top ballet companies (Royal Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, the list goes on). Bath tubs occupied by dancers from said companies (Mathias Heymann, Meaghan Grace Hinkis, Ksenia Ovsyanick and Skylar Brandt are just some of them). Choreographed by Corey Baker, it’s all good, clean fun and brilliantly done.

It’s only a short film – about three minutes – but it pecks a lot of action in. Bath tubs with coloured water in, bath tubs with feathers in and one bath tub with a fully-fledged, tutu-resplendent ballerina in. All the dancers are shot individually (don’t tell the Queen) but the different segments are put together cleverly and imaginatively, with a particular highlight coming from the kaleidesoap effect in the middle. Using his cygneture technique of putting dance in unusual places, Corey Laker looks like he’s swan to keep an eye on. Hopefully this is not his swansong.

I’ll stop now. Just swan more? No thanks, I think I’ll duck the issue. Here’s the link, or should I say sink? No, probably not. Water a lousy review.


Gerard Davis

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The Other Side – Aterballetto: Online, 28 June 2020

Turn to the left

The things you learn inadvertently. The late Achille Maramotti, founder of Italian fashion brand Max Mara, was also an avid art collector and the company’s former headquarters in Reggio Emilia is now a private museum that contains over 200 works of modern and contemporary art including pieces by Francis Bacon, Basquiat and many leading Italian names. The Collezione Maramotti, as it’s known, has only recently re-opened after the coronavirus pandemic but one of its first projects was to film a collaboration between the artist Luisa Rabbia, musicians from the orchestra of La Toscanini of Parma, and dancers from Italian company Aterballetto.

The artwork supplied by Rabbia for the project (a 2017 large-scale painting called Love that depicts a human figure laying flat on an abstract landscape that might be a brain, a tree, a river delta or many other possibilities) plays a surprisingly small role in the 20 minute film. It only arrives on the scene about three-quarters of the way through and the dancers don’t address it much. Up until that point the background is a white wall which is constantly pressed up against in acknowledgement, presumably, of the lockdown Italy is emerging from.

The dancers touch each other a lot too; tentative meanderings like those of a blind person reading the contours of a new acquaintance. This is where the heart of the piece lies; in its discovery of a changed world, or rather in its reassessment of it, or perhaps in its desire for reassurance that things have not altered beyond repair. It’s nicely done but there are a couple of things holding it back.

One is that Saul Daniele Ardillo’s choreography, although perfectly functional, is not particularly exciting. More problematic is the fact that the project as whole treats The Other Side as a film with some dancers in it, rather than a dancework that’s being filmed. Therefore, we get lots of artsy close-ups and quick edits showing what the face is thinking but we rarely get to see the whole body and what it is trying to express.

The main reason The Other Side is interesting is the music. Mostly playing Beethoven, the musicians are also filmed in close-up but that works considerably better because what their legs are doing is inconsequential compared to the magic their fingers are making. Their performances are excellent, especially in the unusual piano trio arrangement of the second movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony.

To my mind a collaboration is the joining together of different parties to achieve a shared goal but in an artistic context its meaning seems to have shifted to refer instead to different people using the same space at the same time to do different things that have little or no relation to each other. The Other Side suffers from that but it must be said that it’s lovely to look at and the individual components can at least stand on their own two feet, even when they’re not in shot.

Gerard Davis

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Lying Together – Hong Kong Ballet/Corey Baker Dance: Online, 17 June 2020

Plants for the future

In these days of having to get used to living in a world that’s been hiding under your nose without you ever truly realising it (who knew, for example, suburban London possessed so many species of flowers?), it’s kind of refreshing to have a peek into someone else’s back garden for a change. Corey Baker was commissioned to make the short dance film Lying Together for World Environment Day and it was premiered by the BBC on said day, 5 June, in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme.

It follows on the heels of two previous environmental shorts he’s made (both available on YouTube): Spaghetti Junction, filmed below Birmingham’s famously despairing road junction; and Antarctica: The First Dance, the first dance performance ever filmed in the rather more sublime landscape of – you guessed it – Antarctica.

Lying Together is shot in Hong Kong and reveals unexpected green spaces in one of the world’s most heavily populated plots of real estate. The choreography isn’t much to shout about really and, despite the provocative title, Lying Together doesn’t address the current ideological crisis tearing the islands apart, but it’s beautifully filmed and reflects a rare positivity about the future of our natural planet.

Gerard Davis

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Safe Distance – Dutch National Ballet: Online, 16 June 2020

Never tutu much

Gerard Davis

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Project Sau.te – Quarantine Project, Week 2: Online, 17- 22 May 2020


The second and final week of Project Sau.te’s Quarantine Project was, on the whole, even more creative than the first week (see Week 1 review). Mei-Yun Lu and Guang-Xuan Chen were by far the best organised of all the project’s twelve participants; not only did they dance a duet, they included clever camera angles, used several rooms and did away with all the waiting at the beginning of the video by, presumably, pre-recording the piece. On top of all that, it was brilliantly performed, featured some seriously good choreography and was full of humour. The chocolate fondant fight and the mambo scene were my favourite bits but all told, this has to be the best new dance work I’ve seen under lockdown so far.

(Mei-Yun Lu & Guang-Xuan Chen light the way ahead for lockdown dance videos)

Yan-Yeong Liao also went to a lot of effort with his work. He turned his room into a theatre, the only participant of the project to make his house look like something that it’s not. Incorporating coloured lights, interesting props and even blocking out the windows to gain artistic control of the space, Liao gave his work a philosophical and mystical bent quite unlike anything attempted yet which resulted in fairly impressive use of imagination and resources.

Talking of resources, Yun-Wen Tang, for some reason, has a red male mannequin lying around her house and so she decided to use him as a partner. Any prospective human partners (dance or otherwise) would be wise to watch this video before accepting any invitations, for although the beguiling Ms Tang demonstrates the tender, gentle side of her nature, she also has no hesitation in pummeling her colleague half to death with her martial arts skills. Seriously though, folks, she’s put together a varied work with invention and intelligence.

(Yun-Wen Tang. Don’t be fooled by her angelic face. She’s fierce)

The endearingly coy Chien-Yao Liao presented an introspective piece that brought forward a subtle sense of emotional narrative while the other two works for the week, by Chih-Han Chiu and Yen-Yu Pai were well danced but meandered along without much intent. On the whole, though, the Quarantine Project has yielded some superb results and reveals how much Taiwanese dancers have to offer of themselves to the benefit of everyone. Congratulations to George Liang and Project Sau.te for organising it all and I hope it’s not too long before all these artists can work again in front of a packed physical audience.

Click here to see all the Quarantine Project videos on the Project Sau.te Facebook page.

Gerard Davis

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1 meter CLOSER – Aterballetto: Online, 21 May 2020

Longitude and attitude

It’s great to see that new work is being created, even in the middle of the severest coronavirus lockdowns. Italy’s Aterballetto have concocted a very professional film called 1 meter CLOSER that features the Company’s dancers expressing themselves in their homes over the past month or so.

Inevitably, strong themes of confinement and isolation pervade the first half of the film but as it progresses balconies are opened up, gardens are danced in and a sense of impending release takes over. Heck, there are even a couple of duets in there with people actually touching each other (it’s ok, it’s all Covid-compatible). In truth, 1 meter CLOSER would have worked better at half its 20-minute length but its subtle positivity is very welcome.

Gerard Davis

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Project Sau.te – Quarantine Project: Online, 11 – 22 May 2020

Plenty of room

Project Sau.te’s Quarantine Project – it’s Taiwanderful!

George Liang is a dancer with Northern Ballet and he’s come up with the marvellous idea of the Quarantine Project. He got in touch with some of his fellow-Taiwanese dancers and choregraphers (students and professionals) and they each agreed to perform a short, original live piece on the Facebook page of Project Sau.te (another of George’s ideas). So, each day at 12pm UK time, one dancer does their thing, the next day another dancer, and so on.

It started on Monday and what’s been particularly interesting is how the creativity levels have increased day by day. First up was Chia-Fen Yeh, a beautiful dancer who incorporated the doors of her room as supports and frameworks. By the time we got to Chien-Shu Liao from Company Wayne McGregor, he’d squashed himself into the kitchen and was employing all sorts of utensils and plants in his routine. Today’s short blast was from Rambert School’s Chih-Yuan Yang who chose to show his wares on his Taipei balcony with a strip light for company – just as a typhoon struck. It’s not often you get to see a dance solo accompanied by lightning and rain – who needs special effects when you have nature showing what she’s got?

(Above: Chia-Fen Yeh’s contribution to the Quarantine Project.)

The level of dancing so far has been extremely high, but then that’s to be expected – Taiwan has one of the world’s best dance education systems and a unique style that lends itself to grace and purpose. Each video has several inevitable minutes of faces staring at the screen waiting to be connected but once you get past that, there are spoken introductions in Mandarin and then, thoughtfully, English too. Once the video has gone live it’s then kept on the Facebook page so you can view them any time you like.

The Quarantine Project is a great idea, especially as you get to see a little bit of each dancer’s personality as well, and there’s still six more to go. To watch this daily unfurling of dance, and to catch-up with all the videos so far, try this link: https://www.facebook.com/projectsaute/videos/quarantine-project-6-chih-yuan-yang-%E6%A5%8A%E8%87%B4%E9%81%A0/526784961331130/?__so__=permalink&__rv__=related_videos

Gerard Davis

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Within Her Eyes – James Cousins Company: Online, 6 May 2020

What’s in a name?

James Cousins has a greatest hit – a piece called There We Have Been. It’s only about 15 minutes long but it’s an extraordinary duet that Cousins has now decided to commit to film. And change it’s name. To Within Her Eyes. Don’t know why, but hey ho.

It’s a beautiful looking film, especially if you enjoy barren windswept landscapes at twilight. The choreography looks just as good as it does on stage and there are a couple of moments where the new medium adds extra insight. Unfortunately, though, the thing which makes There We Have Been so fascinating on stage is the fact the female half of the duet never touches the ground once, and that aspect is rather lost by the film being edited, spliced together, feet sometimes not in the shot. Gone, therefore, is the frisson of human inter-dependency upon which the piece relies, replaced instead by mechanical dependency on the practicalities of cinematic editing. It’s worth a watch but it’s definitely better to see it live on stage, whatever the work may be called when that happens next.

Gerard Davis

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Hold On – Dutch National Ballet: Online, 29 April 2020

Not Dancing in the Street

A plethora of ballet and dance has been thrust online in the midst of the coronavirus but, by necessity, very little of it has been new. Well, here’s an actual world premiere from Dutch National Ballet for you to drool over. Hold On is choreographed by DNB company dancer Milena Sidorova who sent the dancers instructions via WhatsApp who then filmed themselves at home whereupon they were edited together to a song by Di-rect. Simple really.

In all honesty the result is not great choreographically – being full of fairly uninteresting sweeping gestures – but the environmental restrictions are significant and the song is a bit of plodder to start with. However, even attempting something like this is to be commended. The best thing is getting a peek into everyone’s flats, which range from chic to, er, unique. That, and Michaela DePrince dancing in socks. For some reason the video is called Ballet in Lock Down on the official DNB YouTube page, but here it is in its full four-minute glory:

Gerard Davis

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Preview: Alternative LDIF20: 29 April – 16 May 2020, Online

Forever onwards

Alternative LDIF20

Does a mere global pandemic bring everything to a grinding halt? Of course not. Unperturbed by having to cancel Leicester’s annual Let’s Dance International Frontiers festival because of COVID-19, Pawlet Brookes, the Artistic Director and CEO of Serendipity (the organisers of the festival), promptly decided to hold it online instead. Thus, Alternative LDIF20 was born.

Kyle Abraham. Photo by Tatiana Wills

Kyle Abraham. Photo by Tatiana Wills

Alternative DIF20 runs from 29 April–16 May 2020 and includes contributions from the likes of Kyle Abraham, Alice Sheppard and Annabel Guérédrat & Henri Tauliaut. There will be dance performances, speakers, an online exhibition, film screenings, the launch of Serendipity’s podcast and an enticing look behind the scenes with LDIF20 artists. It’ll all culminate with the debut of a collective dance short film. The collaborative work, 30 Seconds of Freedom, will be comprised of thirty-second bursts of movement submitted by dancers, artists and enthusiasts from around the world.

Pawlet took some time out from her crazy schedule to share the love for Alternative LDIF20 and the world in general:

DancingReview (DR): There’s an enormous breadth of material – lectures, screening, performance – in Alternative LDIF20. How on earth are you managing to coordinate it all?

Pawlet Brookes. Photo by Stuart Hollis

Pawlet Brookes (PB): The process of pulling Alternative LDIF20 together has been something of a whirlwind!  When we made the decision to postpone LDIF20, within the space of a week we’d spoken to each artist (who had initially been booked to appear at LDIF20) and curated a digital dance festival that became Alternative Let’s Dance International Frontiers.  When we discussed the digital approach with the artists many suggested we include dance films or filmed performances while the Dance Dialogues programme looks back at past LDIF conferences.

DR: Does it highlight the value of technology in the expression of dance?

PB: There will never be a replacement for seeing dance live, but in our current situation technology has provided an opportunity to connect in a way that we wouldn’t have been able to, even ten years ago when we first started LDIF. It breaks down barriers and borders, and can introduce people to dance, and from our perspective it is an opportunity to showcase dance from the African and African Caribbean Diaspora. Technology can be used in creative ways to create and share dance: for instance some elements of the Alternative LDIF20 is dance made for camera. Additionally, we have a dance film called 30 Seconds of Freedom, created collectively through dancers and choreographers sharing 30 seconds of movement they have filmed on their phones. I think that Alternative LDIF20 shows what can be possible with technology and creativity.

DR: This is LDIF’s 10th anniversary. What have been its main achievements?

Yinka Esi-Graves. Photo by Nina Sologubenko

PB: Over the last ten years, LDIF has developed an identity and recognition internationally as a platform that brings together high quality and culturally diverse performances. We have hosted innovative conferences and symposiums that put artists and practitioners centre stage when talking about their work, and through the conferences and workshop programmes helped to raise the profile of techniques from the African and African Caribbean Diaspora such as L’Antech, Talawa Technique and Techni’ka. I also think one of the main achievements has been our work with artists throughout different levels of their career: from emerging to established artists, we have commissioned 105 new works, presented 39 world premieres and 66 UK premieres.

DR: Regarding the coronavirus pandemic: what do you hope will be the long-term benefits of pretty much the whole world sharing (albeit in different ways) the same experience?

PB: I think it gives something for people to look forward to amidst disruption to everyday lives that everyone has had to face. LDIF works with artists all over the world and I do believe that dance is a universal language, I think the opportunity for everyone to gather together will inspire new collaborations and new ways of working.

DR: Thank you, and best of luck with the festival.

Alternative LDIF20 starts on 29 April at 7pm and continues until 16 May 2020. Here’s the link to the full programme and all the information you need to get watching.

Gerard Davis


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