British Dance Edition

January 30, 2002

Random Dance Company premiered Wayne McGregor?s Nemesis at the British Dance Edition Festival 2002.
Ravi Deepres, Courtesy British Dance Edition

British Dance Edition

Various venues
Birmingham, England

January 30?February 2, 2002

Reviewed by Donald Hutera

As the U.K. was being buffeted by wet, windy weather in late January, a small army of people in Birmingham were undergoing dance saturation. Britain?s second largest city temporarily became the first for dance when DanceXchange, one of nine national developmental dance agencies, hosted British Dance Edition, or BDE. This biennial event is designed to showcase the diversity of contemporary choreography being created in the U.K.

Funded principally by the Arts Council of England, plus regional and civic agencies, BDE 2002 was a smart networking opportunity for promoters, educators, funders, administrators, and the artists themselves. The four-day platform of performances, discussions, and workshops drew over 400 delegates, about 150 from abroad. Many were industry professionals out “shopping” for dance to take back to their venues or festivals.

How accurate a picture of the national dance scene did this provide? Nearly two dozen soloists or companies were programmed in either mixed bills or full-length works. Despite notable absences (Siobhan Davies, DV8 Physical Theatre, Shobana Jeyasingh, Michael Clark, and others), BDE did a fine job highlighting a range of British dance. Established “names” or organizations (Richard Alston, Mark Baldwin, Arc Dance Company) were balanced by younger groups or individuals on the way up (George Piper Dances, Fin Walker, Robert Hylton Urban Classicism).

In an atmosphere more comparative than competitive, generalizations were unavoidable. While some delegates praised the high level of dancing and choreographic craft, several wondered if U.K. dance artists aren?t playing it safe. Do nations with a relatively stable socio-political climate unavoidably engender less artistic risk? Do British audiences in particular want to be challenged or entertained?

Although few works were distinguished by their groundbreaking style or startling content, this is nonetheless an encouraging time, especially for independent British dance. A generation of dance-makers, roughly in their mid-20s to mid-30s, has materialized; it might have what it takes to ask the necessary questions of the art form and the society in which it operates. Some were present at BDE ?02.

Akram Khan retains his status as the rising star of British dance. Set to the shimmering extravagance of Magnus Lindberg?s score, his quintet Related Rocks is hot and cool, at once gripping and stone-smooth, and as much about stillness as speed. Wayne McGregor also demonstrated, in less finished a fashion, why many in the U.K. dance industry pin high hopes on him. Nemesis, the newest work from his Random Dance Company, showed off McGregor?s large-scale spatial sense and streamlined, off-center style. This ambitious, lengthy exercise in social disintegration ultimately posits a new world order, with the cast brandishing bizarre, swordlike prosthetic upper limbs devised by Jim Henson?s Creature Workshop. Intriguing, if underdeveloped.

Other works radiated intelligence. Front Line, Henri Oguike?s charged response to Shostakovich?s Quartet No. 9 in E-flat for Strings, was paired with Charles Linehan?s elusive, subtly driven Speak, Memory. Made for four dancers, the latter contained mystery and glimmers of majesty. Oguike?s tack was a more explicit immediacy. Never merely flashy or frivolous, he hopped, stepped, and stomped with brooding urgency over Shostakovich, discovering his own contrapuntal rhythms and encouraging his six dancers to slam them across with gutsy energy and drama.

Jasmin Vardimon specializes in those tricky, unsettling moments when, as she once said, “you teeter between pleasure and irritation.” Having conducted psychological interviews during army service in her native Israel, she remains keenly interested in the peculiarities of human behavior. In Ticklish she seems to have challenged herself to see how many ways her small clutch of voyeurs, copycats, sexual misfits, and single-minded manipulators might cavort upon, grapple with, and trampoline off of each other. While less thematically secure than Vardimon?s previous works, Ticklish shows her jungle-gym kinetic style at its most cunning and cruel.

Humor that really hits the funny bone is a rare commodity in contemporary dance, yet there were two fine examples at BDE. Protein Dance?s unconventional Publife, staged inside an actual pub, was a group portrait of frisky wit and lively physical danger. A handful of exaggerated types?wallflower, jock, party animal, shopaholic and slick host?blossomed into extremes via a variety of activities, from karaoke and quiz nights to a public birthday and last-orders rush. Devised by the ensemble, Publife demonstrated to sometimes deliciously amusing effect how easily collective high spirits can curdle into personal embarrassment and public display degenerate into humiliation. Artistic directors Luca Silvestrini and Bettina Strickler were careful to keep the show?s seemingly unbridled chaotic energy from running away with itself. They rocked the audience?s boat without tipping us over into ugly waters.

Air Dance Company also hit its comic targets. Tom Roden and Peter Shenton?s hilarious duet This Is Modern affectionately sent up contemporary dance conventions. The performance was structured as a lecture-demonstration during which the pair let loose a droll, deftly timed collection of verbal and visual gags. Certainly the BDE?s late-night audience, steeped as it is in dance, could relate. Yet part of the beauty of the show is how it operated on all levels, tickling the ribs of the in-crowd while educating, even if with tongue-in-cheek, the know-nothings.