Review: ROH Firsts in Programme 3: Rachel Erdos, Goddard/Nixon Project, Hetain Patel at Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House

Performance: 19 November 2010
Reviewed by Lise Smith - Monday 22 November 2010

Hetain Patel's 'TEN'

No circus stunts or digital trickery; no sofas suspended above the stage; no puppetry or film work; the final selection in this year’s Firsts platform seems by comparison with the first two programmes very focused on simple dance theatre . That doesn’t mean the programme lacks diversity or ambition, however – the three pieces presented in this final weekend still found a variety of themes and ways to engage with movement.

Inside It’s Raining*made its UK debut at *Resolution! 2009 and since that time has lost none of its unsettling energy. A trio of separate figures are connected onstage by a bright box of light; over the course of the piece a brutal love-triangle emerges, in which dancer Anat Maron hurls herself bodily into the arms of Gil Kerer, only for him to thrust her away in favour of Ori Lenkinski. The theme of frustration and self-flagellation is clearly and physically externalised: Kerer kicks himself to the floor several times, and the three punch and pull at themselves, finally coming together in a disquieting ménage that not everybody appears comfortable with. A strong, quietly assured work.

Marital harmony at the breakfast table unravels into discord in the bedroom, in Ladies and Gentlemen, How Bored Are You? Rambert dancers Jonathan Goddard and Gemma Nixon formed their own choreographic partnership last year and premiered this duet in December. It’s an elegant study of a relationship between a man and a woman in all its “mundane and dramatic” aspects. Seated on chairs, the two thread limbs around each other; sometimes entwining, sometimes missing and embracing the empty air. She clasps his head; he moves her chair more precisely into place. Little doubts and frustrations already show in this nervous game of musical chairs.

Lying in a bed-shaped box of light, the two work through a repeated sequence of motions which Nixon rapidly grows tired of – she gets up from the bed, leaving Goddard tumbling through space without her body to support him. A happier sequence to Nico Muhly’s Quiet Music has her swinging gaily through the air from Goddard’s shoulders, the two finding equilibrium in pendulum tilts and easy swaying. Even if the feelings of the characters towards one another are sometimes jaded, few in the audience are bored by this elegant duet.

Hetain Patel’s TEN details, through spoken word and gesture, the choregrapher’s attempts to access his Gujarati heritage by learning classical Indian percussion. Patel acknowledges the complexity of concepts such as heritage and identity – he and his two co-performers, drummers Dave Higgins and Mark Evans are all UK-born but regarded as other by English nationals. Higgins is part Barbadian, part African and part Chinese, and Evans is a purebred Scot who wore a kilt until he was nine. Patel tells us he was the only “brown” kid in his class at school in Bolton; the curiosity of his classmates about his Gujarati heritage awoke a curiosity in himself about what made him different, even though he felt more Lancastrian than Indian.

The piece narrates Patel’s efforts to learn the tabla, a process which he tells us involved a lot of elements that “felt Indian” – taking the shoes and socks off before playing as a mark of respect, sitting cross-legged, and using the hands to play rather than sticks, just as most Indians use the hands to eat. Patel feels he had a head-start with the Sanskrit mnemonics used to count rhythmic cycles on the tabla: he can say Ta, Te and Dhin; but he still feels he’s somehow imitating, or faking, the connection. Complex ten-beat cycles may seem Indian on the outside, but they don’t help Patel feel any more Indian on the inside than the vermillion paste that his schoolmates are so curious about.

A largely gestural piece, performed without music by Patel (a visual artist) and two percussionists rather than trained dancers, TEN appears as superficially different to the Erdos and Goddard/Nixon pieces as it’s possible to get. The absence of virtuoso movement does not imply a lack of serious enquiry, however, nor of careful rhythmic and spatial arrangement. Patel’s debut piece is an adept and well-crafted piece of choreography, and handles a complex subject engagingly and with wit.

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