Review: Ingenium at The Actors Church, Covent Garden

Performance: 20 May 2011
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Wednesday 25 May 2011

Ingenium - Antique Dances.
Photo: Dr J

*Je Suis* * – The Maxwell Dance Project; Anthem: Absence – Diciembre Dance Group; Prehistoric Animal – Beyond Repair Dance; Slowly We Collide – Antique Dances; I AM – Embody Dance; Life After – Uchenna Dance Company*

Although I have frequently seen people dancing in churches, this was my first visit to the Actors Church as a dance venue. I doubt if it will be the last since with two minor quibbles aside, it suits the purpose well and this event (organised since August 2010 by Holly Noble, the artistic director of Antique Dances) looks set to become an established platform for small-scale dance companies and their choreographers.

The first quibble is that the style of dance needs to work in terms of the constraints of the venue, particularly taking into account the fact that the audience is seated in pews, without the benefit of any rake. Even at the side of just the third row, I found it impossible to see any floor-based work (which simply took place below the heads of the people in front of me) and I found myself bum-sliding up and down the pew to catch random glimpses between people’s shoulders. Unfortunately this meant that there were several sequences of dance in the first two works that I didn’t see. To some this would be an intriguing element in the process of deconstruction but my message to choreographers preparing for future platforms at the Actors Church is to keep your dancers on their feet. My second concern is simply about the length of the evening. I’m sure that there are very good reasons why a platform such as this needs to showcase as many as six works but it is just too many to focus on (and as an independent member of the audience, as opposed to the majority who are there often as friends and family to support one particular company), I find it difficult to disentangle six separate works at the end of two hours (including an interval).

These codicils aside, this was an enjoyable evening in enchanting surroundings and all six of the companies – and their dancers and choreographers – should be justifiably proud of their work. Despite my concern about the event’s duration, I was always absorbed in what I could see on stage. The most arresting and complete new work, for me, was by the event’s organiser, Holly Noble, for her Antique Dances company: *Slowly We Collide* _was a contemporary work infused with a classicism that came in both the palette of technique and movement and through the influences of Joby Talbot’s score. The rolling torsos, arched backs and long, spiky extensions reminded me often of Wayne McGregor’s work (but with softer edges), an allusion perhaps helped by the influence and gathering urgency of Talbot’s music (composer of both _*Entity* _and _*Chroma* for McGregor). The bespoke costumes, designed by an uncredited Sarah Mercadé, were an integral element that brought an even thicker veneer of professionalism to the overall feel of the work.

I saw the Maxwell Dance Project’s *Je Suis* _on one of the opening nights of Resolution! and here it seemed as if some changes were required to fit the piece into a staging at this new venue but nonetheless Shelley Maxwell’s work about identity, danced to the infectious rhythms of Zap Mama – a Belgian group that bridges European and African musical influences – was an excellent opener. It led into Lucia Piquero’s _Anthem: Absence for Diciembre Dance Group, which was a lyrical and expressive piece set against the soundscape of Mario Benedetti’s poetry (read by Albert Garcia who also composed additional music). First performed at Cloud Dance Festival in 2009 for five dancers, it is remade here for one less in an all-woman quartet. Their harmonies, whether moving sequentially in a line or dancing together in the centre, were always crisp and the poetic emotions of the work suited the church setting particularly well.

The final work of the first half was Jane Coulston’s *Prehistoric Animal* _for Beyond Repair Dance – an ensemble I remember well from their semi-final appearance in Sky 1’s Got to Dance. They were like an exotic fish out of water in that overly-commercial, child-acrobat loving, hip hop crazy environment but deserve credit for taking their particular brand of contemporary dance theatre into the mainstream. _Prehistoric Animal enjoyed the only live music of the evening (played by violinist Anna Salmi) within a soundscape that also mixed BBC wartime Information records advising children of the correct use of gas masks – and Gwen Stefani. The overwhelming imagery was the dancers’ gas masks, representing the Churchillian wartime sentiment of London as a “huge prehistoric animal, capable of enduring terrible injuries, and yet preserving its life and movement”. Coulston and her three fellow-dancers deserve praise for preserving sanity and movement locked inside huge gas masks (looking like some prehistoric goats’ heads) through the work. It showed imagination and innovative creativity in dance theatre but perhaps the fluidity of movement was compromised in favour of the other elements.

The final two works were Embody Dance’s *I AM* _and Uchenna Dance Company’s _*Life After*. Embody is the newest of the groups in this platform, formed and co-directed by Sup Dhanasunthorn, Kelly Manning and Shawn Bracke – and so far as I can see this was their debut performance. The three choreographers (from USA, Canada and Australia) handled the largest ensemble of nine dancers with flair, using a diverse but well co-ordinated set of musical influences to produce a watchable and contagious series of group dances. Vicki Igbokwe’s _*Life After* _brought me full circle since it is both another work about identity (in this case the choreographer’s motivation was her mother’s death after a long illness) and another that I had seen and reviewed in this year’s Resolution! Again, it seemed changed from the work I recalled (not least in the soundtrack?) but the group harmonies and the diverse influences in its style (including capoeira, House, hip hop and African) provided an effective end to a very entertaining evening.

In the interval, I wandered around the church to see the various memorial plaques to Sir Robert (Bobby) Helpmann, Dame Marie Rambert, Tamara Karsavina, Anton Dolin, Constant Lambert and so many other luminaries of British dance in the twentieth century (not forgetting the late great Hattie Jacques who also began her life as a dancer). I think they would have enjoyed seeing that young people are still pioneering exciting and interesting dance.

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