Review: Dance Umbrella Gala 06: Martha @ the Wells at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 5 Nov
Reviewed by Lisa Haight - Friday 10 November 2006

Martha @ The Wells was a gala performance hosted by Richard Move aka “Martha Graham”. Not only did this show mark the end of Dance Umbrella 2006, but also the end of the twenty-eight year reign of Val Bourne CBE as Artistic Director of Dance Umbrella. The ten companies featured this evening presented their choreographic gifts to Val as their goodbye. These ten companies showcasing their work included Mark Morris Dance Group Love, You Have Won; Trisha Brown Dance Company Accumulation; Michael Clark Company Merce’s Nurse; Charles Linehan Company Excerpt from New Quartet; Aletta Collins Stand By Your Man; New Art Club Excerpt from This Is Modern; Kim Brandstrup Afsked; Seosamh O’Neachtain Hit The Floor; Richard Move Lament; and Richard Alston Dance Company Excerpts from Gypsy Mixture.

Richard Move, tonight’s host, was a female impersonator impersonating Martha Graham. He did a superb job both hosting this event and portraying Martha. ‘She’ came out on stage to introduce the evening wearing a gold cape, purple skirt and black velvet top. She walked on the stage slowly and grandly and talked eloquently, getting more than a few laughs! The funniest thing she said in the introduction was “there are two types of dance, good and bad, and none of the latter will be on the stage tonight.” Although I have to agree with Martha, that there was no bad dancing on the stage, choreographically speaking, it was a mixed offering.

My favourite piece in the first half was Michael Clark Company’s ten minute number Merce’s Nurse. The dancers, apart from one in a white suit, wore black cat suits cropped at the chest and topped with white short sleeve cropped shirts. The choreography was fast and furious like Wire’s music that accompanied it. The dancers fell on the floor, formed patterns, walked across the stage, did leg extensions, arm extensions and jumps. It was exciting to watch.

My favourite work in the second half was Kim Brandstrup’s Afsked. It featured Zenaida Yanowsky and Gary Avis in a nine minute piece about a couple in the last moments of their relationship before it ends. Movement-wise it had Yanowsky wrapping her leg around Avis; Yanowsky lovingly holding Avis in her arms; Yanowsky collapsing on top of Avis; them parting; Avis walking off stage; and Yanowsky walking forward looking devastated. It was very touching to watch and was well received by the audience.

Overall, the choreography ranged from classical ballet to contemporary to modern to Irish dancing to a near performance art piece. It wasn’t all to my liking, but then with so many varied style companies, it probably wasn’t meant to be. The audience there enjoyed the evening, clapping after every piece and Val Bourne got the standing ovation she so deserved.

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