Review: Henri Oguike Dance Company in Little Red/Touching All/All Around/Green in Blue at Queen Elizabeth Hall

Performance: 12 & 13 Mar 08
Reviewed by Libby Costello - Sunday 16 March 2008

In the competition for audience members, due to the long awaited return of the New York City Ballet to London, the Queen Elizabeth Hall chose well to go for the award winning Henri Oguike Dance Company. Not only bringing a contemporary offering for London’s dance goers, but also drawing on one of Britain’s most respected new choreographers.

From the first note by the Portuguese orchestra, Orquestra do Algarve, the electricity could be felt for what appeared to be a world class performance. Lead by Cesario Costa, this musical performance was fresh and inviting. Plus a later treat of work from the renowned Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla made the senses tingle as the passion and flavour of the music flowed out from the stage.

Out of the four dance pieces that made up the combined music and dance billing, the audience was given insight into Oguike’s classic style in Little Red and then to more recent choreographic developments with Touching All and *All Around*.

Little Red, the only piece to combine the talents of the orchestra and dance company, was solidly performed by all involved. The sextet of young girls portraying both regal and vulgar images, did so with strong technique combined with odd facial expressions.

This work showed Oguike’s understanding of musical structures – often attributed to his time spent with the Richard Alston Dance Company. Oguike stayed on familiar ground by sectioning the stage with strips of lighting provided by Guy Hoare, and combined group unison with infrequent moments of contact and strong footwork.

The dances strutted like peacocks and stretched like cats, clad in red velvet. The luxurious texture to the movement was clearly oozing from Vivaldi’s score, adding an edge to the otherwise over implied choreographic theme.

The company’s new works, Touching All and All Around, commissioned earlier this year, took Oguike in a new direction. The two pieces merged into one, running back to back, with the same costuming and set design. The vast sheets of material hanging at the back of the stage provided the dancers with places to hide, new stage entrances’ and the possibility of exploring the use of shadows. The movement was extremely repetitive with only two clearly memorable moments. The fast paced run ending with the whole company falling to the floor in a semi circle, (reminiscent of Rosas), added much needed dramatic tension to this work; and the lack of touch was highlighted in a duet using seamless interlocking rolls, contrasting wildly from the previous movement.

Green in Blue, Oguikes dally with jazz music ended the programme on a not so strong note. After the intensity of Orquestra do Algarve’s opening performance and the contrast of the South American tribal music, this offering did not sit well within the programme.

The ’80s style soft jazz provided by Iain Ballamy was not done justice as the dancers stayed within Oguike’s well known style and simply threw in a few hip swings and posed with ‘hand on hip’ attitude. Again the work was extremely repetitive and failed to hold the audiences full attention due to the length of the programme.

This mixed bill combining so many styles and flavours, mainly due to the musical direction, culminated in a long evening of work. The first half of the bill by far out shone the rest of the evening, although the dancers performed well throughout. The most disappointing aspect of the evening were the dancer’s facial expressions, which seemed to have little thought to the end image.

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