Review: Company of Elders - Art of Age - Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler's Wells

Performance: 18 & 19 March 2016
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Monday 21 March 2016

Company of Elders 'Maquette', Photo: Jane Hobson

Performance reviewed: 19 March

Art of Age contains a series of works that reflect symbolically and spiritually on the process of ageing and draw on the collective experiences of the Company of Elders. Loneliness, love, memory, joy, loss, celebration and belonging are some of themes that are poetically woven into the three works by choreographers Jade Shaw, Seeta Patel and Mafalda Deville. Two short films, prize-winners of the Joie de Vivre competition for dance films featuring older dancers, also appear in the programme. Inventive and upbeat they help to make the whole evening a positive advertisement for ageing!

The gritty Echoes, by Jade Shaw, (which is a fragment of a longer piece she is making for the company) has the Elders emerging from the wings and auditorium urgently looking for someone. They are all in disarray, but make for the same spot on stage in whatever way they are able. As the vibey urban music commences they briefly pair off before assembling together in a messy group. Vulnerable, scatty individuals they transform into a formidable army moving with military precision and determination. Inspired by the philosophy of parkour and hip hop, Shaw cleverly uses the energy and motivation of both to inform her material for the Elders.

Seeta Patel’s bharatanatyam solo Patra Pravesham, choreographed by Mavin Khoo, pays homage to the Hindu elephant-headed god Ganesha and is an introduction to Fragments, Not Forgotten which she was invited to make on the company of Elders. Although the solo is highly technical demonstrating the complex techniques of the South Indian Classical dance form, it also shows the intense focus, pacing and imagery that she brings to Fragments. The Elders are a strong group when dancing in unison but even when they separate into solos they are riveting to watch. Tapped into personal memories, they trace fleeting moments with an arm gesture or a sculptural position. Each individual explores his or her past, portraying an image or significant event through idiosyncratic movement. Their own voices, recorded and mixed with the music, further reinforces those memories. Fragments, Not forgotten is rich in pathos and the slow, articulated pace of the movement performed collectively or separately captures haunted pasts.

In contrast to the reflective, backward looking tone of Fragments, Spring, shows the vitality of being in the present, re-awakening the body and expressing human needs. Mafalda Deville explores the conflicting emotions of re-discovery, longing and fulfilment using Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring as a springboard. The Company of Elders move as a group, backs to the audience, looking over their shoulders with arms outstretched in a pleading gesture. Each dancer tests out their movement potential in this theatrical piece, extending limbs, unfolding torsos, nodding heads or gesticulating with their hands. Passing through a landscape of emotional turbulence, looking for love or fulfilment, they are an unruly bunch, grabbing partners who they then abandon ruthlessly in search for something else.

When the tension mounts with the banging, repetitive chords of Stravinsky’s score, the performers form a long line, visualise the music with their fingers then pass a head turn or gesture along like a Mexican wave. Deville’s piece contains some unforgettable imagery: the women shooing away the men or the ensemble marching across the stage, each performer’s mouth open wide in a grimace.

Art of Age showcases the impressive performance of each of the Elders, their curiosity about and commitment to each work – and their ability to rise to any choreographic challenge.

More about The Company of Elders

Photo: Company of Elders in Maquette by Jane Hobson

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