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 Victoria Hill - Monday 17 March 2008

It seems Oguike has an oath. A promise to music: to bring its richness to life, as he has done magnificently in the past, through varying dance works such as Tiger Dancing, Expression Lines and Second Signal. Yet in a series of new and inter-connecting dance works for 2008, Oguike’s oath has strengthened as he solemnly appeals to his dancers and audience alike to take on the rhythmic pulse of the music in something very ferocious and primal.

His ensemble is ever clean, attenuated, elegant and collected, contrasting deeply with the chaotic rush of weather outside on this March evening at Southbank. The first piece *Little Red* – seen a year ago at the Lowry,but now adapted for an all-female ensemble, sees the dancers latticing through Vivaldi’s minor Violin Concerti score, as if they were the very vibrating elements at the source of vibration in the concerto string instruments. They spread lengths of flexible material, kept under tension across a space that has been coated with an emulsion of red lighting. This early display is already an idealised image of Oguike’s pouring heart-felt love for the modern concerto form, with its contrasting ripieno and concertino sections and opposed bodies of sound. Oguike does what he does best and sets a passionate dialogue and synergy between the live music and dance, so that there is always more than one player to any part, be it music or movement, something so difficult to attain in a world that often settles for a bleary, poetic enthusing of the two forms.

It would be churlish not to welcome Oguikes’ attempt to communicate the difficult topic of score and choroegraphy and so we watch on- As Conductor, Cesario Costa in a formal grey suit and spiky, young dancer Fukiko Takase suddenly come to a halt centre stage, they glance at one another in a terrfiyingly colossal moment that sees cross art forms joining, like the unlikely coupling of a dog and cat out on the terrace. This is red hot passion between music and dance.

*Touching All* and All Around, Oguike’s new co-working pieces for 2008 were strikingly beautiful and unlike any other listening and viewing experience an audience member is likely to have heard before. Playful and pacing, yet highly masterful, the dancers seemed moulded like plasticine, both synthetic and flexible in their movement whilst giving off the sense that their movement was the elusive work of something overseeing them. The Native American chanting soundscape in All Around only served to enhance this something-spiritual, the dancers seemed to pop into flight like bounces or spasms in the score, as though it was bleeding them out of a lacerated artery, fast , pumping and momentus.

Yet, unlike Little Red, these pieces, although creating an extraordinary effect on the eye with their complex partner work and patterning, lacked stamina, with dancer Lisa Welham often letting slip of the ball. Blonde Jac Carlson performed a mesmerising solo only to be joined by the other dancers almost instantly, squashing his astute musically timed contractions and graceful extensions.

The majority did not stay long enough to take in *Green in Blue*, what with Portuguese orchestra Las Quatro Estaciones Portenas overunning their earlier 17min time slot by a mile ( I heard that they were in big trouble afterwards!), yet Iain Ballamy’s live jazz music was as predicted, astounding. The dancers, at this point in the bill, become possessed and driven into a gust of charged buoyancy. Ballamy has them hooked and they perform with the music like a swarm of bees stuck in their own honey. You see, Oguike has a very unique facet: his performances in the dance world are never over until every audience member feels so full that they almost need someone to carry them home in a wheelbarrow. The bold repertoire is sometimes very hard to digest, but boy does he feed it to you. With the live music including three leading jazz musicians and the young, exciting Orquestra do Algarve, mixed with an array of athletic dancers from around the world, who each move with exquisite attention to detail, it is hard to see how Oguike could go wrong, and he only does slightly.

The problem is his oath. In bringing the richness of music to life, his newest pieces suffer and hang loosely, carried by the pulse, but not yet pulsing themselves. We see the essence, we feel our feet twitching with the dancers’ awkward positioning and tangled partnerships, but honestly this could go on forever. What Oguike needs now is a spell check: he has a whole archive here.

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