Batsheva Dance Company: The Athletes of God

If you know about dance in Israel, then you are bound to know about Batsheva Dance Company.

England is currently hosting a successful tour of Batsheva Ensemble, Batsheva’s younger company which is performing Ohad Naharin’s Deca Dance (2000). Despite protests and interruptions from anti-Israeli groups, it appears that the English dance world is beginning to see and appreciate the power and uniqueness of Batsheva. My parents went to see Deca Dance at the Birmingham Hippodrome last week to get a taste of why I had to come to Israel to study dance. They were both overwhelmed by the intensity, the unexpected moments, the humorous moments and most of all the way the dancers moved. To quote my father, “They moved so differently! When a dancer would move an arm, for example, and reached a place but then something inside that arm was still moving and extending out...” "EXACTLY!" I screamed down the phone at him - this is the effect of Gaga which the dancers train intensely in (see last week’s post) but also so much more...

So why did the Batsheva Dance Company receive a title like “the athletes of God” from the San Francisco Chronicle? Batsheva’s ability to amaze audiences stems back from even before the introduction of Gaga technique of the '90s. Believe it or not, Batsheva Dance Company was actually originally a Graham-based company. Who would have thought from watching their work today that they used to be steeped in Graham technique? In 1964, Bathsabee de Rothschild was the original founder and funder for Batsheva; she had an interest in Martha Graham’s work and therefore was one of Graham’s company's supporters. Through her funding, the Martha Graham Dance Company was able to come to Israel to perform in 1956, setting off a tidal wave of modern dance in Israel, which was at the time influenced by the German Expressionist artform Ausdrukstantz (expressive dance).

In 1964, when Bathsabee de Rothschild founded the Batsheva Dance Company, she made Martha Graham the artistic advisor. Dancers of Batsheva trained in ballet and Graham technique, and  Batsheva Dance Company was the first to perform Graham’s work outside Graham’s own company. Batsheva Dance Company toured worldwide and was a success, with one critic quoting Batsheva’s performance of Graham repertoire as bringing “intensity (more than Martha Graham Company) even though [they] lacked technical ability”. Batsheva dancers already had that “fire” in their bellies right from the start. Due to internal disagreements, however, Rothschild withdrew her funding and left with Jeanette Ordman to set up Bat-Dor Dance Company in 1968, leaving Batsheva stranded, having lost their right to perform Graham's repertoire (in 1975) and with constantly changing artistic directors. Nevertheless, Graham’s loss was Batsheva’s gain, as Batsheva could now focus on developing new Israeli choreographic works, especially by their own dancers such as Ohad Naharin. In fact, on the strength of Naharin’s choreographic work with Batsheva and international companies like Nederlands Dance Theater, he became artistic director of Batsheva in 1990.

Naharin began his tenure as artistic director with choreographing shorter pieces which  were quite theatrical. For example, Kyr (1990) contains one of Naharin’s most known sections “Echad Mi Yodea”, which you can view in the video below at 2:22, or go and see it live at Sadler's Wells!

The accumulative build in the music is reflected in the accumulation in movement. The throwing of costumes in the floor, the use of the chairs as part of the actions, the recognisable costumes which immediately connect you to your own associations: very theatrical compared to his current choreography. Naharin started with works with theatrical elements adding to his work whereas in more recent works, dancers wear tightly fitted and simpler costumes, relying on the technical ability of the dancers as a more important tool to convey theme or form. It appears as if Naharin has realised the power of his movement is enough to stand alone without being “decorated”.

Naharin has also developed his use of staging in that he sometimes uses in the round such as in Sessions (2011), which I was very lucky to see at Batsheva's home Suzanne Dellal Centre. I was really excited for not only was I going to see my second Batsheva performance, but also seeing them on their home turf. I entered the studio performance space with an extra sense of anticipation as it was in the round with each side consisting of just two rows of audience seats. I was very excited to sit at the front: I was about to see Batsheva dancers up close.

Sessions is a structured improvised piece and there were random “reserved” seats in the audience for the dancers to sit in during the performance. The work was a mixture of different repertoire phrases which came together with all or some or danced alone by the dancers; the overall structure was very clever as you never felt bored, while the silence and softness was always inexpertly broken and the power and fast pace was always unknowingly dissipated. At moments, the dancers would directly dance towards audience members, seemingly intimidating, but I enjoyed this sense of menace from the dancers, as if the feeling of intimidation was the “other dancer” in the piece. Furthermore, sitting so close, you realised how POWERFUL every movement was, from moments of basic slow controlled walking or suspended balletic penché arabesques to moments of fast contact duets and moments of fast strong jerky moments. There were also humorous moments where the dancers were miming the lyrics to the sexual song with awkwardly-held positions.

I have two favourite sections: one was at the start; after few minutes of slow and controlled movements from a few of the dancers, there was a sudden burst from a male a dancer and all the dancers were in and out of each other’s body parts with unusual swift duets, lifts and pulls. The other was a climax in a soft romantic song where one by one, the dancers had joined in holding hands and were circling. All of a sudden, a dancer abruptly burst into the circle on his knees, and off the dancers went again to the fast-paced duets. Overall, you could not tell what was structured and what was improvised, which is what I love most of all. What I also loved was spotting one of my Gaga teachers performing. As a teacher and person, she is very sweet and softly spoken; as a performer she had the most strong and defined movements ever, but also her face was FIERCE!

The fact that Naharin’s work can be seen as high art and also accessible art for all is also what I love about Batsheva, while Naharin also uses moments of humour which can be enjoyed by all. For example in Hora (2009), the dancers bop their heads and create “macho” movements to Tomika’s synthesised classical music.

There is also sometimes a sense that his works should be enjoyed and not taken too seriously. This is emphasised in Gaga classes: when the students are concentrating too hard, the teacher will always repeat “Come on guys, stop taking it so seriously, enjoy, have fun!” Naharin has also adapted shows for younger audiences; it's not quite the same as in going to see Angelina Ballerina performances at the Royal Opera House, but he has taken his own dances and adapted them slightly. Decal’e is based on Deca Dance or a fun and interactive piece like Kamuyot (2003).

Most of all, what amazes you about Batsheva is of course their movement. When you watch the dancers you truly realise how they came to be called “The athletes of God”. Naharin’s choreography appears to create an inner fluidity, an inner pulse, as if the dancers have a flow of electricity or water coursing in their body.

In my first month here in Israel, I participated in an intensive workshop with Batsheva Dance Company ex-dancers to learn repertoire from Max (2007).  This repertoire is connected to Naharin’s voice saying ten accumulated words. We worked on four different sets of ten words then finished with a layered set of feet sequences, jumps and gestures. On the outside, the movements may appear clear and simple, but we would be gasping for breath by the end. It was such a challenge to move from extreme and opposite positions and actions or from extreme dynamic to dynamic. Each position was particular; we were always informed how we needed to hold positions strongly but with a soft element?!? There was also a position where your hand was flexed strongly at 90 degrees, but your fingers were held softly and not so straight?!?  When I danced each action, I had to imagine a different concept: I couldn’t dance Max just thinking I was angry or imagining concepts like how my ex-boyfriend makes me feel; I had to think of a different reason why each action was performed. For example, I would imagine shooting at someone, then ducking from a tennis ball, then the next as if I was a waiter. Later, when I performed this repertoire, I had to perform as if I was throwing away my insides to the audience to get the same Batsheva fierceness! I feel that Batsheva dancers dance as they have two dancing bodies in one: their flesh as a dancing being and  their skeletal structure as another dancing being - sometimes they work together, and sometime they work differently. I feel Batsheva are on a whole different level - even planet! - to most dancers and definitely merit the title “athletes of God”.

Please go and check out Batsheva Ensemble to see Ohad Naharin’s Deca Dance on tour. Deca Dance is a collection of sections from many of Naharin’s works, so you will Naharin’s choreography at his best: powerful, explosive and soul-grabbing! You can catch them at Sadler’s Wells from 19th to 21st November: tickets are still available from

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Batsheva Ensemble: Deca Dance



Some might describe Batsheva Ensemble as "NDT2 with beards". Both companies are peopled with prodigiously talented dancers in their late teens and early 20s, both perform works by Ohad Naharin - and in fact, part of the joy of this evening's performance was in seeing pieces previously performed at Sadler's Wells by NDT2 - but the similarity peters out there. Batsheva Ensemble's performances are an explosion of Gaga technique, the movement language developed by Artistic Director Ohad Naharin back in the '90s, and which we've had limited exposure to so far through Hofesh Shechter's work - but Batsheva Ensemble reminds us of the full richness and potential of this way of dancing.

Starting with a solitary dancer entertaining the audience before the show started, the stage slowly filled with more and more dancers, moving individually until their movement seemed to snap into sync as a voiceover commanded "Ignore. Ignore All" - fitting words for a performance disrupted by anti-Israeli protests.

While we've watched Ohad Naharin's works previously through NDT2's performances, and Batsheva Dance Company's three prior visits to London, this is our first chance to see his works performed by his own dancers in over four years and fittingly, Deca Dance is a medley of Naharin's past works, an ever-evolving selection which varies according to the current repertoire of the parent company. It's an excellent way to explore the great diversity of Naharin's creativity, and the talent of his young dancers. Even the music ranged from traditional Hebrew songs and the Academy of Ancient Music all the way to Goldfrapp. And throughout the evening, we're given ample opportunities to marvel at the unique quality of the dancers' movement, whether of their sheer physical control, whether in tiny movements, or how perfectly in sync they perform, even when all 16 dancers are on stage.

Although excerpts from eight works were performed, the standout pieces were Black Milk, Virus and Kyr. Black Milk, with five men wearing just longyi-like trousers, was oddly reminiscent of Russell Maliphant's recent The Rodin Project, with elegant sculptural choreography which developed to give the work a more tribal feel, forging strong relationships between the dancers. Spurred on by Paul Smadbeck’s “Etude no. 3 for Marimba", the movement was lively and dynamic, always flowing, whether the dancers were leaping in the air, or smearing their faces and bodies with mud.

Other works such as Virus showed how tightly choreographed the entire company can perform, with solos alternating between group, well, body-shaking, while an duet frin Mabul to baroque music displays Naharin's quirkiness, largely consisting of a man trying to poke his partner's stomach. And Kyr. While clips of it are available on YouTube, little prepares you for the sheer power of seeing it performed live, with the dancers throwing themselves backwards (or in one poor dancer's case, endlessly forwards), hats flung away and the dancers shouting along to the song.

It's impossible to mention Batsheva Ensemble's performances without referring to the protests which have dogged them since their tour started in late October. Hefty security measures were in place at Sadler's Wells - as their Brighton performance had had to be cancelled due to the protests - which delayed the start of the show, meaning the audience was treated to an impromptu entertainment by two of the dancers until the show could start. And when protesters in the auditorium shouted out, the audience tried to drown them out with applause for the dancers.

While the show was tainted by unpleasantness and delays, if anything, it increased the audience's support and appreciation, creating a truly electric atmosphere, itself boosted by the amazing performances. There are only two chances left to see Batsheva Ensemble in London, and few tickets left; whatever the inconvenience, do NOT miss them!

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Alias: Sideways Rain



Sideways Rain presents Alias' choreographer Guihermo Botelho's take on the evolution of mankind and our constant need to change and adapt. The cast of 16 dancers perform a series of movement in a continuous flow from left to right.

It starts with performers crawling across the stage on a haunting score by Mexican composer Fernando Corona. Music and movement accelerates and the performers become almost like insects or primal creatures, relevant to the theme of the piece. The choreography then takes on a liquid quality: a fluidity that kicks off the optical illusion that the floor of the stage is moving like a conveyor belt. This trick runs throughout the whole performance very successfully.

The constant stream of bodies across the stage in varying movement sequences also starts dehumanising the performers who at times become what could be viewed as a rolling bush, a passing fish or any other creature that one might envisage. Botelho creates an environment open to interpretation. There is limited but quite beautiful interactions constantly interrupted by the flow which seems incapable of stopping.

Towards the end, the sequences become increasingly human, with dancers now looking up or down, altogether starting to acknowledge their surroundings. Very subtle costume changes happen seamlessly, accentuating the gender of performers: women lose their trousers for skirts or dresses and men their tshirts for shirts. Then, the flow hastens in a final crescendo that ends up with naked bodies running across the stage pulling a thin string along with them. This results in another optical illusion of speed and movement which, combined with the naked runners, feels like a commentary on the human condition of our need to just ‘keep going’, much like life itself.

The ‘evolution’ doesn’t happen chronologically or in an explicit way but it is somewhat successful in creating a reflection on mankind’s journey - if you read the programme notes. Intermittent lulls and dips of energy were felt throughout the audience but not for very long. However it did make the performance slightly lumpy and not as cohesive as one would hope.

The main downfall of this performance is the confusing on-off narrative moments which feel unnecessary, out of place and completely disposable. At one point in the constant stream, a man and a woman stop and acknowledge each other. That moment felt like the performance was gearing in a different, maybe more explicit direction but ended up being yet another isolated incident which just didn’t quite work.

The cast really showcased some incredible dance talent and control, all magnified by their connection as a company which comes across very strongly.

Overall, Sideways Rain is a visually pleasing performance which plays very clever optical tricks and successfully makes dancers shapeshift from humans to ‘things’ through movement. However, it slightly lacked in consistency partly due to the odd isolated attempts to create a narrative disrupting the flow of energy felt by the audience.

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Vincent Dance Theatre: Motherland



One of the great things about the performance space in the Robin Howard Dance Theatre at The Place is the proximity of the audience to the performers and their experiences on stage. As Charlotte Vincent’s cast of ten (five men, four women and one child) present their smiling selves to their audience in the opening of Motherland, the smiles connected and felt infectious, many in the audience smiling back at them.

The opening moves into a sequence which recurs four more times before the work is over: a female performer slugs a bloodlike substance from a wine bottle against the stark white backdrop, lifts her skirts, and hovers over it. Diagonally opposite her, another woman collapses in a heap, all to the gentle sounds of musician Scott Smith at the piano.

As with this recurring scene, marking a passing of time perhaps, suggestion is everything in this work. There are comical suggestions, as when dancer Robert Clark unzips his trousers to pull out a banana, and enthusiastically eat it; there are more profound suggestions, as young performer Leah Yeger asks a seductively standing Patrycja Kujawska, ‘why are you doing that?’.

The young Yeger’s presence in the work serves to encourage the audience to see things through younger eyes: moments when she sees something she is perhaps not supposed to, or is beckoned away by another performer highlight further what it is that we are watching.

Vincent utilises her varied cast wonderfully, and the partnering we see in a slow-motion fight sequence (between two men, between two women, between a man and a woman, with an old couple dancing and a child watching) is a testimony to her trademark strong partnering material. And yet nothing was forced, or over the top, or gratuitous. There was almost a sense of containment of these clearly very accomplished performers; if anything, they were perhaps held back in terms of movement to allow a more human side to radiate through. An example of this is Greig Cooke’s idiosyncratic solo, which recurred many times, in many forms, shifting forwards and backwards, where he is joined by two men in a show of raw, shouting masculinity, and later it becomes a tender male / female duet.

There is wildly, comically-celebrated simulated sex, there is a trio of screaming female rock musicians in their underwear, there is an uplifting ensemble sequence revelling in the fertility of the Earth. There are moments of true ridiculousness, one being Janusz Orlik in a little black dress and stilettos, gyrating and screaming out graphic pop song lyrics, and moments of real human tenderness, as we hear Benita Oakley,  the eldest member of the cast, tell her story of being a young, unmarried mother. The live–voiced (by performer Aurora Lubus) ‘baby sounds’ which accompany this should not work, but somehow do: it is absorbing and emotive.

These tender moments that draw you in are rife throughout Motherland, and too often the very functional transitions into the following scene took something away from the momentum, and otherwise real cohesion, of the work.

The subject of gender and particularly of femininity is gently, comically, but very definitely highlighted. It is interesting though that the five male performers are never outwardly aggressive, dominating, or intimidating towards the women; any idea such as this is simply implied, or suggested. It is suggested through sequences such as when musicians Alexandru Catona and Scott Smith stand either side of Patrycja Kujawska shouting, calling for ‘a virgin and a whore’, a woman ‘in control, but not too controlling’, ‘mother material, but not a single mother’.

The issues that Motherland explores are all issues we are aware of, all things that we are aware we ought to change. Not needing to give us any new information, what it does do is gently nudge these ideas and stories to the forefront of our minds. In an entertaining, emotive, albeit rather long two hours, it gives them a human face, it highlights how ridiculous things have become. And through astute casting, and giving only just enough away, it successfully, quietly questions the effect that all this has on our future generations.

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Jasmin Vardimon: Freedom



Freedom, Jasmin Vardimon’s new work is a hard-hitting overload of scenarios, exploring what it is that creates freedom for the individual, ultimately posing the suggestion that this concept may only be possible in the imagination. Intriguing in concept, the actuality of this idea seemed to spill forth in a hazy, convoluted way, often muddying scenarios which had, at first, seemed clearer.

A promising beginning, Vardimon (in collaboration with Guy Bar-Amotz) created a set which resembled a forest, abstractly constructed using pipes and greenery. The atmosphere in itself was effective, and formed an interesting point of collision for incoming vignettes both adapting to and contrasting with the environment. Music blasts forth and permeates the set, energising the dancers with a popular mix from John Lennon to Led Zeppelin.

In her signature style, Vardimon’s movement style is virtuosic and powerful. Dancers toss themselves around the stage, and even in quieter moments strut with a sense of purpose. This movement style lends itself to duets that are mesmerizing in their physical and emotive gravity. In one instance, a couple pull toward one another and push one another away, a convincing display of freedom through passion. These explorations of freedom are tokens that there was some deeper choreographic exploration on the theme of freedom, though not evenly along all avenues.

Entertaining in small chunks, there were a few too many moments of repetitious uncertainty. In one episode, a girl comes on stage, playfully whispering, “I want to… tell you… a story… it’s about… ” Though this scene repeats itself constantly through the piece, it hardly develops, and the inefficiency of language (and thus a barrier to freedom?) is not strong enough to thoroughly convince the audience of the idea.

These vignettes continue, though demonstrating no further connectivity. Many that are revisited are seen through a darker shade, and antagonistic take on the initial idea. An effective form for a longer development, the length and depth of these explorations did not do the dancers justice. The scenarios became too many and too non-sensical, often self-defeating.

While exciting to see a performance where the dancers really moved, the overarching form disrupted the power in the work. Vardimon’s movement vocabulary remains exciting and vibrant, but in a structure so dissonant, one can’t help but leave a little disappointed.

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“Connect this to your Passion to Move... to Dance”

This sentence opened my year of dance training here in Israel: it has changed how I see, move and, most importantly, love dance more than ever before. This sentence is what makes Israel’s dance scene so great - this is due to the dancers here sweating fierceness and passion from their bodies: dancers from companies like Batsheva Dance Company who are such soul-catching and commanding dancers to watch. Therefore, this is why myself and many others from around the world are drawn to dance in Israel.

“Connect this to your Passion to move... to dance” is a regular teacher feedback given in Gaga classes. As readers, you may now go off now to Google “Gaga Dance” and may find yourself with many YouTube clips of endless dance routines to the famous Lady Gaga songs, but Gaga has stemmed way back before the lady herself: it's a movement technique derived in the '90s from Batsheva’s artistic director Ohad Naharin. Gaga was named for its simplicity, so easy a baby can say it, and it distances itself from becoming “Ohad’s technique”.

Also, since the creation of Gaga, the technique has been constantly evolving, adapting with how it’s taught and what is involved: the Gaga classes I have discovered this year will probably not be not the same in the future. This also explains perfectly what Gaga is: an ongoing exploration of movement possibilities. The Gaga lessons are structured with layered tasks which explore how differently you can use and move your body. Furthermore, from what I feel, Gaga is one of the best whole-body workouts: there have been many classes where I have finished with my body and clothes drenched in sweat.

There are two types of Gaga classes: Gaga People and Gaga Dancers. Gaga People is a class which is open to all: all ages, genders, sizes and abilities. Gaga was originally developed for non-dancers: in fact, it was initiated by one of Naharin’s costume designers asking for dance lessons. What I love most about going to Gaga People is that it gives me my fill and love of community dance (plus the nonstop smiles of the older participants give me pure joy). In Gaga we are all together and moving together, regardless of who we are or who they are. Gaga takes this a step further; with the uniqueness of the class, there is a sense of not being able to pick out who is a dancer and who is not. Gaga is taught together but it is about your own individual journey, your own exploration.

A typical class (I say "typical" although each class is different) starts with gentle “floating” - floating your body as if in water: not rising up but with a sense of spreading). This “floating” is not moving your body in space but reacting to an inner pulse: “travelling stuff”. A first layer of a task is given, for example you may be asked to initiate the movement from your “Lena” (a Gaga term for the pelvic  area) and see how the body reacts, or move from the “moons” of your feet (the term for the base of your toes/ball/heel of your feet). This is explored and then layered with more tasks. For example you may be asked to move as if “your bones are swimming in your body” ... hang on a minute, don’t forget your “travelling stuff in your body” at the same time. Or even move as if “your flesh is grabbing your bones” (a whole different sensation!) This class climaxes to a finish with you moving to “your own groove”, exploring on your own what you have discovered in class and most of all, “connecting this to your passion to move... to dance!” At this point, after approximately an hour, your body is exhausted but the comment of “connecting to your passion” makes you rediscover your groove and you end up going for it!! At the end of the class, you are asked to shake it off as if you are taking a cold shower or rinsing spaghetti in hot water. Then you have a final patting/slapping down of the body and a final floating of the body as you feel the “travelling stuff” in your body from the vicious slapping or extreme movement.

As for Gaga Dancers classes, they are a must for every dancer. If you are fortunate to be a dancer in London, there is a weekly Gaga class at Danceworks by Chisato Ohno (details). As a dancer, I have never explored so many possibilities of how I can move within my pliés, tendus and balances with little muscle use, or how they can be worked/pushed further or can be connected/disconnected from other body parts. There are superb challenges like shaking your body while still floating your arms. Applying more than one contrasting dynamic in your body is an excellent challenge. And considering I have been in intensive dance training for the last two and a half months, I believe my lack of aches and pains and injury is down to Gaga.

I have so far had three really memorable Gaga classes. The first was my first class with one of my favourite Gaga teachers, Aya Israeli, former rehearsal director for Batsheva Dance Company. I came out of this first class feeling as though I was Moses who had just finished his 40-year travel in the desert: I felt free, exuberated and spiritually awake. My second was with Aya again - she is such an inspiration with her energy, charm and talent - where we finished with the whole class really connecting to their own and the class groove, to an upbeat house dance track. At the end of the lesson we were all buzzing so much we stayed much after the class dancing around the room: we all had connected to our passion to move. My third was with my second-favourite Gaga teacher, Yaniv Abraham. He pushes you way past your strength, flexibility and stamina limits and reminds you to “connect your pain to pleasure”. In one class with Yaniv I found that when I was exhausted, I connected my pain to forcing myself to enjoy the “burn” and bam! I found I could go further than I could have ever before. I have never sweated so much in my life - and I’ve done the London Marathon, so that’s saying something!

Some of you as readers now might be reading this information about Gaga and be thinking “oooh it’s not my cup of tea” (I had to put that in as I’m constantly being mocked for my Britishness here in Israel) but trust me, the “pre-gaga” me would have thought the same. Watch Batsheva Dance Company in action (see below), and you will see how these dancers have such a distinctive quality of moving, as if they have an animal “brewing” up on the inside which darts out at unexpected moments. Also, the dancers appear as though every muscle fibre has the power of a lion but the softness of a feather - and this is down to the daily Gaga classes that the dancers take. Dancers from all around the world are storming Tel Aviv’s Suzanne Dellal Centre (The Sadler’s Wells of Israel) to take one of the daily Gaga classes on offer.

So that’s a quick overview of one of the main reasons for why I am here in Israel. Ever since I first saw Batsheva Dance Company in 2008, I've  wanted to move with the fierce and explosive nature of Batsheva Dancers. Also, I'm a big lover of Israel and I am very blessed to be mixing my huge passions in life: dance and Israel. Furthermore, after being a full-time-and-more dance teacher, I felt I needed a career break to find fresh ideas and rebuild my technique.

In Israel’s past, the dancers of the 1930s travelled to Europe to study Expressionist dance techniques, the Israeli dancers of the 1960s travelled to New York to study modern dance styles. Now, the whole world is travelling to Israel to study here and get into companies like Batsheva Dance Company, Batsheva Ensemble (Batsheva’s younger company) or Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, which boasted over 400 applicants to their latest auditions. Also, the UK’s strongest current talents boast Israeli: Hofesh Shechter (a former dancer with Batsheva Dance Company) and Jasmin Vardimon (a former dancer with Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company).

So here I am at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance studying a year of dance with two amazing intensive courses.

Please go and check out Batsheva Ensemble to see Ohad Naharin’s Deca Dance on tour. Deca Dance is a collection of sections from many of Naharin’s work, so you will Naharin’s choreography at his best: powerful, explosive and soul grabbing! You can catch them at Sadler’s Wells 19th to 21st November: tickets are still available from




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Arthur Pita: God’s Garden

With a slap of a young woman’s foot on wood and an elbow jabbed to the sky, Arthur Pita’s God’s Garden bursts out of Eden and surges into an earthy mix of sin, jealousy and revenge. Set in Madeira in a suburban back garden, the piece is a take on the parable ‘The Prodigal Son’, following the narrative of a vengeful jilted bride and runaway groom. Traditional Portuguese folk dance is mixed with grounded, angular contemporary movement and satirical interpretations of typical flouncy love duets. Sprinkled with Portuguese text and song the piece is like watching a foreign film, with an ambiguity that leaves the audience with intrigue and uncertainty.   

However, the pain and empowerment of women is the real subject of this story. Three women represent iconic stages in female life: a Bride (Helen Auschauer), a Grandmother (Dianne Payne-Myers), and a young woman yearning for a child (Scarlett Perdereau). They each long for what they have not got (a husband, a baby and youth), yet the three have unique strengths in overcoming their problems. The Bride has the power of revenge, standing directly on-top of her Groom’s foetal body. The Sister has an almost demonic command where in scenes of devilish rage she stops time with her arms spread wide, looking to the heavens. The Grandmother, on the other hand, shows great strength through her extravagant solo of high kicks and splits, an astounding feat for an 84 year old woman.

What is most striking about the piece is the attention to detail. Providing a lesson in choreographic timing and wit, no stone is left unturned for Pita. If a shovel hits the ground, earth is placed beneath it; when the two women of the house wash the Son (Nuno Queimado), every of his body is covered; he even stands on his head so they can reach his feet. Pita has a knack for comic timing and quirky additions. In one such moment, Payne-Myers maps out her grave with the help of the Father (Michael Small) and her walking stick. Manipulating Payne-Myers's body with the stick to drag, lift and shuffle her into the right position (arms crossed across her chest), when Small is finally done, he hands her a shovel and she begins to dig.

In the penultimate night of their revival tour in Birmingham’s Patrick Centre, this diverse cast provided a meticulous, intriguing and surprising performance. Pita’s uniquely idiosyncratic approach creates a fresh look on this well-known parable in black comedy style. Nevertheless, the real charm of the piece is in the dysfunctional family dynamic, which through its oddities seems uncannily familiar.

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Rosas: Cesena

Cesena starts with a very sudden blackout. A single dim light beams onto the bare stage revealing hints of a large circle made out of salt or sand. The audience is thrown straight into the middle of the night for a journey through to daybreak.

As the audience’s eyes are still getting use to the low light, silence is broken by frantic movement noises of a naked performer running around then stopping, facing the audience at the edge of the stage to sing, a cappella, a piercing wholesome song which fills the air like a thick fog. He then disappears to let the other eighteen performers move in a tight and jerky rhythm up and down the stage and through the circle, almost taking ownership of it.

A wonderful obscurity lets the entrancing voices of early music-inspired vocal group grainedelavoix penetrate the audience as we are asked to second-guess the movement taking place on stage. The nineteen bodies on stage move and sing with acute precision as the performance develops from obscurity to daybreak in a realistic timeframe of nearly two hours. The 14th century Ars Subitor (A More Subtle Art) score presents a series of intricate and complex songs where voices intertwine in a wonderful chaotic harmony essential to the atmosphere created.

As the ‘day breaks’, the stage becomes more visible and we see it completely bare in all directions. It doesn’t resemble a theatre space; rather, it seems like site chosen specifically for this performance. This also means that the performers have nowhere to hide, nowhere to rest which, in turn, demands the same from the audience.

The early music style is embodied by the choreography and many sequences feel like expressions of laments. Dancers and singers form one wholesome body which evolves in varying shapes and expressions. Dancers sing and singers dance throughout, giving the performance an incredible integrity and plunging the audience in a total immersion.   

Cesena seems completely self-sufficient whilst gripping the audience in a sort of trance. Never does the audience feel fully part of the performance, but the intensity of the voices and movements holds a tension which makes us unable to think of anything else. Audience engagement is embodied through our core whilst we feel completely irrelevant to the events onstage. This unfamiliar experience really gives a sort of distant intimacy, almost as if a passive soul could watch its body from afar.

This is a highly immersive and demanding journey from dusk to daybreak made out of a wonderful marriage of choreography and songs which fill the audience with resonance. De Keersmaeker challenges her cast, stretching them to the very edge of their ability and her audience to keep up with events happening onstage. It is a hard challenge of stamina and concentration which, if overcome, leaves the audience drained of emotion as we witness a sublime moment of this wonderful time of the night (and day) stolen from our otherwise busy and disconnected lives.

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Rosas: En Atendant

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s work En Atendant is a mindful, peaceful, and simple work where each movement is a resonating hum in accord with her conceptual decisions. Consistently inspired by music, Keersmaeker has in previous works played with music by The Beatles, Mahler, Coltrane, and Reich, but in En Atendant, Keersmaeker has moved further back in history, to the late 14th Century, a musical period known as Ars Subtilior, a polyphonic form based on dissonance and contrast.

True to form, Keersmaeker has used these complex musical forms to create a choreographic language that is both pedestrian and rich in abstraction. Though her development process is exacting and articulate, the end result is as meditative as the musical score, movement concurrently growing and receding with the ebb and flow of the music, led and abandoned by live performers on stage. Neither music or dance creates an entire piece, but there are stages within the work where one element overlaps and diminishes another. Neither is dominant, yet both are equally responsible for the propulsion behind the work.

In its initial incarnation, the work took place outdoors at dusk, in the courtyard of a monastery. The stage as Sadler's Wells has been well-manipulated to form a similar impression, the light fading to the back of the stage, the floor stripped bare, and a single rustic wooden bench for the musicians. The dancers, clothed in simple blacks, move with a solemn grace which exemplifies the exactingness of the movement.

The most physically exciting part of the work occurs when a line of dancers “explode” into simultaneous movement, forming trios and pairs, interlinking, shifting and moving through one another and the space. Individuality amongst the group, but not enough to break it is a fragile yet effective visual delight.

To create a piece which is calming and sophisticated, yet not boring, is a difficult line to create. Keersmaeker can teeter on the edge, but perseverance and understanding are well rewarded, for when you yourself become quieter, enjoying the movement and musical vocabulary that this choreographer can offer, an enticing and mysterious world await to be experienced.

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Royal Ballet: Viscera, Infra & Fool's Paradise

Whispers titillate the Floral Hall that tonight's Triple Bill is a sign of things to come. A decade under the helm of Dame Monica Mason and the masses are expecting something different from newly-crowned Artistic Director Kevin O'Hare. Despite being dubbed a "practical" choice by some, it is worth noting that this evening's triple performance is entirely contemporary: not a MacMillan in sight. Which doesn't seem *so* practical, does it? It is also no coincidence that the Royal Ballet's first ever artist in residence kicks off the night.

The name on everyone's lips tonight is Liam Scarlett and many are asking the inevitable: Is this O'Hare's McGregor? The answer is, not quite yet. Liam himself has described Viscera, created a year ago for Miami City Ballet, as 'plotless', and this self-confessed evaluation rings true tonight. Whilst Viscera promises a great deal from Royal Ballet's new resident, Scarlett is yet to punch his mark and find his voice. But let's start with the positives: polished, elegant and beautifully-lit, theatrical plum-dyed flamenco flourishes show the depth of Scarlett's originality - when he trusts in instinct. Which is the crux of this new work: when Liam hits his stride, the tenderness and intimacy he ignites between his dancers show the depth of passion within. A feline stroke of Marianela Nuñez's face against Ryoichi Hirano's arch is all that it takes. It is unfortunate, then, that these brief moments are overwritten by formulaic group dances that lack his own stamp and a sense of direction and purpose.

Whereas Scarlett's Viscera is strangely absent, the return of Wayne McGregor's Infra is gut-wrenchingly present, slicing through the austerity mist. The ecstasy of Infra sparks with every slight nuance: that flick of Eric Underwood's foot, as if looking for trodden chewing gum on the sole. Day-to-day drudgery and despair is captured, warts and all. Principal dancers are scanned like a value-pack of baked beans. The wasteland of the soul cries out against a factory line of anonymous commuters. Edward Watson jogs backward offstage, as if being rewound, paused and played again at normal speed. And there is that beautiful pas-de-deux, as Underwood cradles Melissa Hamilton in spite of the chaos. Each dancer is on their own journey, and yet the piece is fused together by a collective desire. That desire for hope when all seems lost. Infra is surely McGregor's masterpiece.

And so we are left with Christopher Wheeldon's Fool's Paradise, a visually-soothing work which dreamily glides yet fails to awaken. Underwhelming is never something one associates with Wheeldon, and yet the faultless beauty of both the golden light and Joby Talbot's emotive score leaves us wanting something more from his nine dancers, including Sarah Lamb, Federico Bonelli, Melissa Hamilton, Edward Watson and Steven McRae. That said, it is a lovely piece to watch, and when the cinematic confetti falls, the haunting imagery of Sam Mendes' American Beauty is evoked.

As the night draws to a close, the real name on everyone's lips is Kevin O'Hare. Proving himself capable of injecting the Opera House with a new lease of modernity, tonight has invested in contemporary choreographic talent and demonsted an uncompromising commitment to showcasing it, warts and all. Long may it continue...


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Russell Maliphant: The Rodin Project

The curtain at Sadlers Wells opens on Russell Maliphant's opening night of The Rodin Project to reveal a set sumptuously dressed in flowing white linen, warmly lit, to the enchanting sound of Alexander Zekke's strings.

The opening serves as a good indication of what is to come, as we are gradually introduced to Maliphant's six dancers in a tumble of fluid limbs and ever-changing levels and planes. The loin cloth-like costumes and clear definition of male / female gender roles suggest a celebration of the human form, as of course does much of Rodin's sculptural work, and these dancers' bodies serve them well. Pedestrian, carefully-placed exchanges build to become emotive duets, including one of note between Tommy Franzén and Jennifer White. The execution of the movement is languidly engaging, and through a steady flow of gradually-building energy and sound, the audience are invited to observe, not bombarded or harassed in any way.

In the programme, Maliphant discusses how the process involved in this project has been an ongoing one, and the dancers' continuing exploration of their subject matter is evident. Throughout the work there is a sense of introspection, of the performers describing something unseen.

As the energy continues to build, but the light, soft quality - a result of the floor also being linen-clad - remains, the work started to become a little self-indulgent. That being said, as the (at times contrived) relationship between sound and movement continued to develop, and momentum built, the first half ended, inexplicably and abruptly, leaving the audience wanting more.

And more we were granted, as the second act revealed the set now stripped bare, a stark playground of slanting platforms and walls, the undulating use of which gave a sense of there being many more performers than just the six.

With the dancers now in sportswear, the movement material became more abstract, isolated, animalistic and almost tribal; the influence of popping and locking styles within the choreography, specialities of dancers Dickson Mbi and Franzén, becoming increasingly evident.

In this somewhat disjointed second act, we see a mixture of short female solos, rare but well-placed unison, and a pensive and beautiful duet on a wall by Franzén and Mbi.

In another scene, the female soloists, Staton and White, are nude, bringing a sense of vulnerability and subtle provocation to the work. These moments, demonstrating yet more lighting triumphs by Michael Hulls are satisfyingly non-gratuitous.

There were more than a couple of moments which seemed to bring about a conclusion to the piece, but on it went, building in vigour, including a strobing section reminiscent of a sportswear advert, and gradually, increasingly acknowledging the audience with a more outward focus.

The sliding minor chords of the soundscape form an absorbing cohesion with the sliding sinuous bodies that we see, and the work ends with a sense of satisfaction. The earth did not move, but an absorbing ninety minutes were spent watching six incredible performers do what they do best.

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Eddie Ladd/Judith Roberts

Part narrative, part history lesson, Eddie Ladd and Judith Roberts in their work Gaza/Blaenannerch examine the Palestine and Israeli conflict with surprising artistic sensitivity. By paralleling Wales and Palestine by way of the struggle for an independent identity, these Welsh creators connect these countries and histories, allowing them both an objective and subjective standpoint on the situation. Seamlessly both choreographer and director navigate between movement and dialogue, developing a visual narrative with words, embellished and built upon using sections of anguished and physically penetrable movement.

Eddie Ladd has a gift of presenting honest movement. Establishing such a transparency renders her body a mirror for feeling. By manipulating a configuration of rocks, Ladd used these props as anchoring points for the development of the piece, progressive milestones that gradually reveal more of the work. This skillful unfolding of a non-linear narrative is what keeps this work interesting. Though it’s easy to become bogged down with the gravity and enormity of information in the piece, there are moments, breaks, where “lessons” occur, the information within the piece is examined from a different viewpoint, dissecting the pace of the work. In one example, Ladd lists “Acetone” at the top of a blackboard, and “Zionism” on the bottom. Explaining how these concepts relate to the overall structure feeds audience curiosity, and placates the intellectual and historical buffs through artistic ingenuity.

If this piece sounds technical, you’re getting the right sort of image. The history of the Palestine struggle, and the subsequent tone of the current situation is the backbone of everything that is delivered in this work. The encouraging thing is that it is unnecessary for a strong grounding in history or politics to interpret and appreciate what Ladd and Roberts state. Flecks of humour, of ignorance, or speculation pepper the work and filter this genre from educational lecture to physical theatre. Roberts, playing the role of the director displays a sounding point for Ladd to vocally move toward and physically respond to, balancing on piles of rocks, crawling up chalk-boards and giving her body in to simple yet weighted movement.

What the piece lacks in virtuosity, it gains in uniqueness. For someone looking for dance, this work may seem somewhat lacking in movement, but for choreographic and narrative development, physical strength and complexity this work possessed a compelling depth that cannot be overlooked. Do not be put off, but encouraged by the subject matter. History isn’t only for the classroom.

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Michael Clark Company: New Work

In a very busy Barbican Centre, an eclectic mix of audience members makes its way to the theatre to see the highly anticipated ‘New Work’ by the Michael Clark Company.

The first half opens with Harry Alexander hanging on a wire, being brought down from above still and expressionless, characterising the company’s performance in the first half. Accompanied by an enchanting and easy listening score by Scritti Politti, eight dancers in simple black costumes perform a choreography comprising of basic ballet moves recognisable to all. With no set and a backdrop switching through a palette of warm colours, the audience's attention is solely on the dancers. The simplicity of both the choreography and the stripped-down staging promises a spectacle of exceptional dance and control which doesn’t always deliver. Saying that, this understated, almost neutral work - across facial expressions, costume, staging and choreography - is easy to watch and lasts a sufficient 25 minutes.

In the second half, the mood changes: the cast appears in a fluid choreography dressed in red dip-dyed leotards, accompanied by Pulp's 'F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.' In almost an alien-like manner, they come in and out of the (still) understated stage in varying formations really showcasing some lovely choreography with the physical control explored in the first half of the show. There is a definite climax building up with accelerating music, pace and backdrop projections as words slide in all directions, backwards, forward and upside down. The audience's attention is suddenly diverted to deciphering the projection, giving the dancers time to disappear and change costumes. The words ‘What?’ ‘Who?’, ‘Why Me?’ and ‘I’m thinking about starting a zoo’ can be read. The buildup seems to lead to the unveiling of Jarvis Crocker and his Relaxed Muscle musicians dressed in what resembles Mexican Day of the Dead costumes as the backdrop lifts and turns the rest of the show into a strange rock-meets-dance gig.

The zoo reference is then echoed by the black and white costumes and highly-charged animal instinct choreography. At this point, the dancers really seem to be enjoying themselves and there is an element of play and fun in their performance. The mixture of a much more elaborate lighting design by Charles Atlas, mirrored stools as props and energetic rock music and performance by Jarvis Crocker invites the audience to shift to the edge of their seats and bop their heads along with the rhythm. But the novelty wears off slightly and Jarvis’s performance at times feels uncomfortably misplaced, particularly when he walks down to the front row of a now very static audience. His performance at times outstages the dancers and the anticipated climax is dubitable.

Exceptional dancing from the whole cast, particularly from Julie Cunningham, has to be noted as well as two light-hearted cameos from Michael Clark himself, clearly giving the starstruck audience butterflies.

Overall this finale is a good piece which resonates with the usual Clarkian strong relationship between choreography and pop music. It works as a whole, leaving the audience energised and jolly but arguably fails to really cohere between pieces and fails to climax to an explosive end as it feels it should.  

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Female Choreographers' Collective

We Face Forward was the official launch of the Female Choreographers' Collective. Their mission statement, included in the programme notes, is that they “endeavour to promote, support and build the profile of female choreographers in the UK. Thought provoking debate and facilitating discussion across the perceived gender lines, we aim to unite not segregate all choreographers, regardless of gender, in the pursuit of equal representation in the arts”.

The debate and discussion was notably absent from the entirety of the evening as each piece was introduced only by the house lights fading into blackout.

WatkinsDance opened the evening with Inseparable, a male-female duet about a relationship. Given the oversaturation of the dance world with duets on this theme, a fresh and different approach was needed but sadly was completely absent. The clearly well-trained dancers performed the playful movement with skill and the partnerwork was particularly strong. However there were no clear emotions displayed. The duet expressed the superficiality of a teen fling rather than the soulmate relationship promised by the programme notes.

Beyond Repair Dance’s Seven opened with the seven highly athletic dancers performing repetitive floorwork movement reminiscent of a hardcore Graham class. When they took to an upright position, the feel of the movement shifted to a combination of Cunningham and Jazz with some exhilarating falls, jumps and turns executed with precision. At no point, however, was it made clear exactly how “the potentially restrictive nature of superstition” was looked at, despite the explicitly religious surroundings and backdrop of St Paul’s Church providing an ideal setting. The costumes were even more baffling, as the women wore bras and leggings while the men wore t- shirts and shortened tracksuit bottoms.

The theme of womanhood, and the issues surrounding the experience of women in society was thankfully introduced by Diciembre Dance Group’s Yerma’s Nights. The live music accompaniment helped accentuate the movement of a lone woman, Sara Accettura, as she portrayed the journey from adolescence and playfulness to motherhood, adulthood and ageing. The choreography was clear and interesting and the dance was performed well, but the intention behind each movement was not always there. This was a new piece for DDG, and felt like it needed more rehearsal time to reach its peak.

Holly Noble’s Possession, performed by AD Dance Company, closed the evening with another male-female duet about a relationship. It fared better than Inseparable in its intensity of emotions and a clear progression from gentle, loving movement to an expression of the need to dominate. The dancers’ similar build helped show an even but twisted relationship, but it fell short of reaching an explosive end as it needed to.


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Itamar Serussi Company

Mono, Itamar Serussi’s first full-length work performed at The Place, is a sixty-minute wander through the fragmentation of one man’s thoughts. Inspired by the experience of buying a stroller for his newly-born twins, Serussi was struck by the phrase “in three clicks from mono to duo”, paralleling this with his life. As such, this work explores the diversifying and coming together of experiences, and how this coming together can create something new and exciting.

Robotic yet sensuous, Serussi’s dancers possess an uncanny ability to inhabit an abundance of states, allowing the body to become a forum for a kaleidoscope of textures. After performing mechanical movements, dancers began to isolate and ripple their bodies, creating a mesmerizing sequence where the dancers seem neither human nor other. The audience is maintained at a distance as the dancers glance, move to, and freeze away from those that watch them. The space created is a disjointed mish-mash of ideas, concurrent stories that collide at given musically-cued moments.

These relationships are highlights of the piece, developing some sense of connectedness in amongst the diversity of movement. At times the activity occurring can be overwhelming, blinking offers the chance to miss movement sequences that give more evidence of personalities emerging. One dancer can lighten or deepen the tone of another with this idea demonstrated through a touching and well-developed duet performed by Milena Twiehaus and Connor Schumacher. These dancers, remaining decidedly in their own zone were still able to connect enough to move alongside one another, interacting with small insinuations rather than overt gestures.

This work, rather than distilling a conceptual point, succeeds in presenting the broad spectrum of experience, witnessed through the filter of Serussi. His movement vocabulary can be childlike and playful but remains intricate and grounded. For a first full-length work, Serussi has presented something which is thought-provoking and engaging albeit too diversified at times. In one viewing, it is difficult to digest the enormity of movement presented, but at least the audience is left wanting more.

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La Nuit Blanche

Direct translation: 'The White Night'. But also a common French expression for, as we might say, 'pulling an all-nighter'. It is an annual all-night arts festival which takes over the beautiful city of Paris, opening up galleries, museums, buildings of interest that wouldn't otherwise be accessible to the public, the streets and even the River Seine as performance and exhibition spaces.

I was lucky enough to be in France at the time of this year's Nuit Blanche, and made it so that we could be in Paris on the night.

Slightly overwhelmed by the size of the area spanned by the festival's events, and perturbed by the lack of an English translation of the programme, we braved the October Parisian rains and went exploring.

We wandered first through the Eastern stretch of the festival, marvelling at the architecture of the Institut du Monde Arabe, and witnessing just twenty minutes of a 'Philip Glass Marathon' that was to run from 9.30pm to 2am.

Across the Pont-Marie bridge and onto Ile de St Louis we discovered what was my favourite part of the night: a performance in the windows of the Biblioteque Polonaise. Léna Massiani's 'Danse à tous les étages' was simplistic, well-choreographed and with a little French flavour courtesy of accordion accompaniment. As we watched from beneath umbrellas on the street, I was very conscious of the value of taking performance out of the proscenium theatre stage, and into the world, to be accessed by people who wouldn't necessarily seek it out.

The White Night also encouraged me to appreciate the host buildings themselves as works of art. I guess as much as a set is of such importance on stage, the chosen setting for each work throughout the city should of course lend itself to the themes, mood and overall impression of the performance work that it hosts.

The atmosphere throughout the city was, despite the rain, electric, and from the haunting beauty of Notre-Dame Cathedral, to the cartoonesque brass band playing Queen's 'Don't Stop Me Now' under a bridge, this White Night was a great one.

As street art becomes increasingly popular and in demand, it seems that the French may be leaders of the pack. I know that StopGAP's experiences of other works at the annual street arts festival in Amiens, in the North East of the country, have been hugely positive, and the scale of La Nuit Blanche and its audience is a testimony to its success.

Brighton holds its own annual White Night, which unfortunately has this year been cancelled due to lack of funds; a great shame, but perhaps another reason to return to Paris in a year... ?



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Richard Alston Dance Company

Richard Alston's one-off performances at The Place provide London audiences with the opportunity to see the company in a new light: not only does The Place provide an intimate setting to watch the dancers up close, but the selection of works typically demonstrates Alston's more experimental ideas, redefining how we see Alston as a choregrapher.

Alston remains extremely prolific, creating not one but two new(ish) works for the short season at The Place, accompanied by a new work by Martin Lawrance; these new works also introduced the company's new apprentices, who have managed to blend seamlessly into the company already. And although the incomparable Andres de Blust-Mommaerts has left Richard Alston Dance Company to join Donlon Dance Company in Saarbrücken, few could have anticipated the impact this would have on the remaining dancers - or one dancer in particular.

The programme opened with Shimmer, a work for seven dancers, created in 2004 with jewel-encrusted cobweb costumes by Julien McDonald. It opened with a sensual duet between Hannah Kidd and Pierre Tappon, with expansive movements and an emphasis on extensions as though to make the most of the costumes' diamonds.

Alston is renowned for his musicality - for his ability to fine-tune his choreography to the nuances of the accompanying music - and so the mood of each section of Shimmer reflected the changing themes of Ravel's piano music, performed onstage by Jason Ridgway: some sections were more technical, others slower and more graceful. The contact duets - extremely rare for Alston - were particularly effective, with Alston creating relationships between his dancers rather than solitary movement to be performed alongside each other, which has its own beauty.

Shimmer ended with a powerfully-performed solo by Nathan Goodman; having been a tour de force in his duet with Nancy Nerantzi, his physical control and poise made his solo all the more impressive. And Shimmer wisely ended on his solo, as what else could possibly follow such a performance?

Alston's Isthmus was performed after the interval: a brief group work which had originally been created for Bob Lockyer's 70th birthday celebrations earlier this year. Isthmus is the kind of work Alston is best known for, using pizzicato music and buoyant linear movement in visually-striking choreography. And it ends all too soon.

Having earlier seen sensuality and partnerwork in Shimmer, this programme's premiere, Darkness Visible, saw another Alston rarity: floorwork. It's not until Darkness Visible starts, with a floor-based solo in dim light, that you realise how un-Alstonlike this solo for Pierre Tappon is. Meditative and graceful, this solo stretches Pierre Tappon choreographically, using repeated sweeping movements, unlike Alston's usual precision of movement, with expansive bows morphing into signature Alston moves. Nevertheless, the contrast in movement and lighting is not sufficient: this seems to be a work which calls for the dancer's personality to be more vivid.

The undisputed highlight of the evening was Martin Lawrance's Madcap, and more specifically, the total transformation of Nathan Goodman as a dancer from the opening scenes which saw him making rapid spiderlike movements in a circle of light.

Julia Wolfe's music, performed by Bang on a Can All Stars, was infectiously lively, imbuing the dancers with the jazziness of the music, and they seem to relish the less stylised choreography: Tappon's solos are more interesting than in Darkness Visible, and the fiery yet jaunty duets between Liam Riddick and Nancy Nerantzi see Nerantzi taking the lead.

Madcap is a very fast-paced and dynamic work, completely modern in style and very un-Alstonlike, building actual relationships between the dancers and toying with pacing, whether having Liam Riddick walk onstage, looking at each dancer challengingly as he breaks into a slow languid solo at the front of the stage as each dancer backs away cautiously, or Nathan Goodman tearing onstage, briefly grabbing Riddick then rushing off again.

We've come to expect fantastic performances from Liam Riddick in each show, but Nathan Goodman was the true revelation of this programme, demonstrating exactly how woefully underused he has been until now, and what a fantastic dancer he has the potential to be - it just remains to see whether Alston and Lawrance will continue to make the most of him, or whether he'll be snapped up by other companies after these fantastic performances!

Richard Alston Dance Company is currently on tour, and you can catch them on the following dates:

16 & 17 October: Royal & Derngate, Northampton

23 October: Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

1 November: Theatre Royal Glasgow

6 November: Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham

13 & 14 November: Wycombe Swan Theatre

13  - 16 December 2012, Peak Performances @ Montclair State University, New Jersey, USA


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What To See: October

Wasn't September a bizarrely quiet month for dance? In fact, without The Place Prize, there was barely anything taking place, not like past Septembers which are usually overflowing with lots to see. And so October is more than making up for it, with plenty to choose from...

ZooNation, Some Like It Hip Hop: to 13 October
Peacock Theatre
Tickets & details:

The ultimate feelgood dance show returns to the Peacock Theatre with an even stronger show than last year's production, and is even more lovable and heartwarming than before, with extremely strong performances from each of the cast, whether dancer, narrator or singer.

Choreographed by Kate Prince and Tommy Franzén, and loosely based on Some Like It Hot and Twelfth Night, Some Like It Hip Hop tells the story of a dark city where Lizzie Gough and Teneisha Bonner are forced to cross-dress in order to find work and eventually love, with plenty of comedy and great storytelling along the way. An enormous hit with teens and small children.

Akram Khan, 'DESH': 2 - 9 October
Sadler's Wells
Tickets & details:

Currently sold out, but returns may be available, this is the much-awaited return of Akram Khan's semi-biographical solo show exploring his Bangladeshi roots and what it means to be Bangladeshi. With collaborations with Tim Yip (production designer for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), award-winning lighting designer Michael Hulls, writer and poet Karthika Nair, Olivier Award-winning composer Jocelyn Pook and slam poet PolarBear, DESH is more spectacle than dance show, with stunning imagery and creativity, not to mention Khan's wonderful choreography - always a treat to watch. People expecting nothing but dance will be disappointed, but it's a beautiful and enthralling show.

Richard Alston Dance Company, 'At Home': 3 - 6 October
The Place
Tickets & details:

Richard Alston usually spoils his audience, and this programme features no fewer than three premieres: Madcap, a new work by the gifted Martin Lawrance with music by the New York collective Bang on a Can All-Stars; Isthmus, a new work by Alston to Jo Kondo's music, and Darknesse Visible, a new solo for the wonderful Pierre Tappon. Also to be performed is Shimmer, a glittering work to the music of Ravel.

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet: 11 - 13 October
Sadler's Wells
Tickets & details:

If you only see one show this season, it should probably be this one - Cedar Lake are finally making their long-overdue UK premiere, showcasing their "powerful physicality with classical technique".

This programme will feature some of the hottest choreographers around, with a work exploring rhythm by Nederlands Dans Theater's Alexander Ekman, and works by Crystal Pite and Hofesh Shechter.

If you want to whet your appetite before their shows, do watch The Adjustment Bureau, starring Emily Blunt as a Cedar Lake dancer.

Rambert Dance Company: 16 - 20 October
Sadler's Wells
Tickets & details:

Rambert's autumn programme is usually less showy than their springtime season, but they look set to break that tradition with this quadruple bill, which sees a return of Paul Taylor's beautiful and timeless Roses. Other works include Richard Alston's "sharp and witty" Dutiful Ducks and a UK revival premiere of Merce Cunningham's Sounddance. Irish choreographer Marguerite Donlon has created Labyrinth of Love, a heartbreaking and humourous work which will be accompanied by a live orchestra and soprano.

Birmingham Royal Ballet
Opposites Attract: 23 & 24 October
Autumn Celebration: 25 - 27 October
Sadler's Wells
Tickets & details:

Birmingham Royal Ballet usually bring both a classical programme and a modern ballet to Sadler's Wells on each of their visits, however this time, they're presenting two triple bills, in which the definition of "modern" ballet sees a blurring.

Opposites Attract sees the more modern works, with a new work by American choreographer Jessica Lang, a revival of Hans van Manen's impressive Grösse Fuge - last performed in all its black leather glory at Sadler's Wells by the Dutch National Ballet, and a personal tribute by David Bintley to jazz icon Dave Brubeck.

Autumn Celebration! presents BRB's own version of Ashton's elfin comedy The Dream, the central figures being an otherworldy Oberon and a Puck who is likely to outdance (and outpuppy) all the dancers. Also performed will be Broadway show choreographer Joe Layton's amusing take on the celebrities of the 1920s and an Olympic-inspired work by David Bintley.


Worthy Mentions

Nigel Charnock, 'Haunted By The Future': 13 October
Platform Theatre as part of Dance Umbrella
Tickets & details:

Nigel Charnock, one of the enduring greats of the physical theatre and dance worlds, tragically passed away only two months ago, and Dance Umbrella is presenting a rare opportunity to watch his final work, Haunted By The Future, "a tragically comic dance theatre piece about him and her and it." As Executive Director of The Place, Kenneth Tharp, recently reminisced (, Charnock's work is not for everyone, so be warned before booking tickets.

Dance United: 20 & 22 October
The Place
Tickets & details:

Dance United works with those who are marginalised in society and whose potential is often unrecognised or unfulfilled, whether they are troubled youths, prisoners, or involved in one of their Ethiopia-based projects. Among their projects is a London-based performance company, which has previous performed works by Siobhan Maguire-Swartz and John Ross.

Dance United's London-based company will be performing alongside the Yorkshire-based company to present a number of works by Kwesi Johnson, Carly Annable-Coop and Helen Linsell, while this programme will also see new Associate Artist Dam Van Huynh's first work for UK audiences since his return from his two year residency in Hong Kong only two months ago.

Phoenix Dance Theatre: 25 - 27 October
Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House
Tickets & details:

Phoenix Dance Theatre is one of the UK's leading contemporary dance companies, and finally makes a long-overdue return to London with their new mixed bill, featuring premieres by Ana Luján Sánchez and Kwesi Johnson, the return of Henri Oguike’s unflinching Signal and Melt: a breathtaking mix of aerial dance and contemporary choreography by Sharon Watson, Artistic Director of Phoenix Dance Theatre.

Michael Clark: 17 - 27 October
Barbican Centre
Tickets & details:

Michael Clark is renowned for his days as a renegade figure in the world of ballet, and although his recent works haven't matched the creativity of his heyday, they've thrilled his many fans and won him more than a few new ones.

Little is known about the two new works to be performed, however they will include music by Relaxed Muscle and Scritti Politti, and these performances will feature live music from Relaxed Muscle.

Cloud Dance Festival Corner

Female Choreographers' Collective: 13 October
Tickets & details:
Tickets: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

It appears that there is a shortage of female choreographers, or at least of visible support for them, so Holly Noble of AD Dance Company (formerly Antique Dances) and Jane Coulston of Beyond Repair Dance have chosen to form a new collective to create solidarity for the majority of the dance industry.

13 October will see the launch of this initiative, with works by Lucía Piquero (Diciembre Dance Group), Anna Watkins (WatkinsDance), Holly Noble (AD Dance Company) and Jane Coulston (Beyond Repair Dance). You will have to email the address above and make a bank transfer to secure tickets for the event, or buy them on the door.


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Rosie Kay Dance Company

Dancers fling themselves across the stage, ravenously thrusting and leaping angelically. There are wild beasts and rubbish scattered, flowers adorning the stage and bodies calmly sitting cross-legged; in the interval, an impromptu cabaret show from five animal-headed performers. This is Rosie Kay’s latest work There Is Hope, premiered at Birmingham’s DanceXchange. An ambitious piece overwhelmed by a complex mix of physical theatre, dance, film and live music, There is Hope takes on the immense task of exploring the universality of belief and religion.

Following Kay’s extremely successful and timely investigation of war in Five Soldiers, Kay explains that the idea of religion appealed to her in part due to the multicultural context of her Birmingham base, but also due to its enormity. The sheer scale of what she is trying to explore is indeed what is most striking about There is Hope. While she follows a dramaturgical structure of real life, hell, purgatory and then heaven, the piece is crammed with all manner of religious references from incense burners and meditating, to chanting and gospel choirs.

In the most remarkable moments, Kay creates superbly tangible imagery. In one sequence, a cross-shaped stage becomes a plinth to present the cycle of life. Dancers tumble unceremoniously onto the cross, growing to a adult with arms akimbo at the peak, before slowly wilting and dropping off the end. At another point, the exuberant presence of Chris Vann takes a preacher-style sign stating “There Is Hope →” and points the arrow most poignantly at small things: a pile of empty plastic bottles, a flower, and even a late returning audience member.  

However, at times her literal approach does become a little grating, in particular during a sequence retelling the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, a story so familiar it seems unnecessary, and direct references to rituals turns into a game of spot the religion. Furthermore, although the live musicians (led by Chris Mapp) create a sensuous, tingling experience, and the set (Yann Seabra) and video (Louis Price) are detailed and engaging, the complete experience is so vast that the videos seem sadly redundant.   

With five captivating dancers, and a work that veritably punches you in the face with its enormity of theme and production, one certainly can’t fault Kay’s ambition and execution. Ultimately, There Is Hope is a uniquely subjective piece; from the perspective of different cultures and different beliefs, Kay’s work no doubt resonates in different ways. What is most important is the dialogue this piece has the potential to spark: the discussions about unfamiliar cultures, the arguments about life and death, and the questions we ask ourselves about belief and ultimately hope. What better place for the genesis of this intercultural discourse than the origin of Kay’s inspiration, Birmingham.

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Joss Arnott Dance: The Dark Angel Tour

Tickets for Joss Arnott's show at Rich Mix sold out several days ago, which made it surprising when they announced that they'd released 25 extra seats. But when the audience arrived before the show, it turned out that these comprised two extra rows of chairs in front of the raked seating: two rows in which people could see little besides the heads in front of them. A rookie error, which saw some people frantically changing seats so that they'd actually be able to see the show, and the remainder having to miss out.

The opening work was 24, a work inspired by the Alexander McQueen exhibition Savage Beauty, which was premiered at Resolution! at the start of this year. Reviews of this work focussed on the Amazonian nature of the dancers, alluded to by the costumes and their ferocious physicality. While the choreography emphasised the dancers' articulation and physicality, it encapsulated the preconception of Amazonians as fierce and savage women, although the choreography was unevenly balanced with some of the solos lasting for too long.

Origin, the newest work in the programme, was a solo for Arnott himself, and a welcome opportunity for audiences to see him personally explore his choice of movement vocabulary. At the start of the work, he cut a humble figure, his face obscured by the too-dim lighting as he propelled himself around the stage, as though shaking off... something. Although Origin had an improvised feel, it seemed to be a natural progression of where Wayne McGregor might go at some point in the future. Emotions and situations are hinted at, yet we can only see Arnott's response.

threshold was the highlight of the evening, and it's poignant that it's Arnott's earliest work which was the strongest work of the programme. It's easy to see from the opening section exactly why this piece excited so many and propelled Arnott so far: it's a confident and accomplished work which illustrates Arnott's ability and potential, as well as the skill of his dancers. Tavaziva dancer Lisa Rowley was easily the most captivating of his dancers, demonstrating fierceness and near-savagery in her movements, only occasionally acknowledging the audience through her narrowed eyes.

threshold is a powerful work when it wants to be, which isn't all of the time: the slow sections seem to be extended far too long, when the audience and dancers thrive on the adrenaline rush of the faster sections. And yet threshold seems to have been extended far belong its natural length: several sections appear to have been arbitrarily repeated multiple times, and the piece is much weaker as a result. Also, the extended sections reflect Arnott at a period of transition, having moved on from the spirit of threshold towards a new work, which weakened the overall piece.

Joss Arnott is capable of setting the dance world alight: he showed that over a year ago with the premiere of threshold, but sadly nothing in this current programme has lived up to that promise. This makes it all the more disappointing that despite the support of South East Dance, South Hill Park and producers Dep Arts, nobody has provided Arnott with the necessary artistic feedback about these works prior to launching this tour. It's also baffling that Arnott's lighting designer is Michael Mannion of Rambert Dance Company, and yet the lighting was too dim throughout - even in an intimate space such as Rich Mix - for the audience to watch without a struggle, much less view the works at their best. Let's hope that the Arts Council will provide him with the necessary R&D time to transform these works into the pieces they deserve to become.


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