Dear Akram…

If you’re a UK dance person, you probably know all about Akram Khan’s badly misjudged comments on female choreographers and opportunity in the dance industry.

We’re not going to rehash it, but in a nutshell, he said that there was no need for more female choreographers (i.e. opportunities for female choreographers), just more need for good choreographers.  He didn’t mention whether the two were mutually exclusive, orrrrr…

Ahem.

Suffice to say, there was a measure of consternation at nylon HQ.  Mr Khan has never shown himself to be the most diplomatic, measured, educated or eloquent of dance mouth-pieces (see also: UK training sucks, Arts Council cuts = Good – my paraphrasing), but this latest declaration seems like an additional suckerpunch, right in the…ovary, or mammaries, or some other inconvenient lady-part that just gets in the way of making good dance.

There’s been quite a lot of back and forth on this in the press (including a statement signed by hundreds of industry professionals – male and female – rebuking his comments), but so far we really like this response from Article 19:

http://www.article19.co.uk/theevilimp/the_anatomy_of_a_non_apology.php

And thus, the ever spiraling conversation about women in dance – and perhaps more specifically in choreography – continues, ad infinitum.

What do you think?  Should we be moving the conversation beyond ‘why does this happen?’ to ‘what should we do about it?’  Or rather, what should or could be done to address the current status quo?

A Little Bit of Paris in NYC

You know how sometimes, you just need a little comfort?  An afternoon nap under a blanket; a bowl of mashed potatoes; re-watching sitcoms from the 90s; a big fluffy scarf that you can hide behind whilst traipsing through endless people at the train station…that kind of comfort?

That’s sort of how I felt about An American in Paris on Broadway.  I’ve had the briefest of flings with the Big Apple this trip, and in two days managed to cram in two shows.  After falling and feeling all over Fun Home at the Wednesday matinee (it’s an amazing show), I stumbled out into the Great White Way, wondering where I could get my next fix. Of theatre, I should clarify.  After the possibility of free tickets fell through, I was at a bit of a loss – should I see if TKTS had any last minute possibilities?  Should I give up and instead make my way down to Marie’s Crisis so I could sing the songs as well?

And just then, twinkling at me, I noticed the Palace Theatre and its giant vintage-looking billboards announcing An American in Paris.  I thought I’d try my luck at the theatre, and thankfully I managed to nab a leftover rush ticket.  I have to say – the show is astoundingly beautiful.  The costumes are gorgeous, the animated set pieces (which look like watercolours in progress) are glorious, the dancing sublime.  Christopher Wheeldon has produced a stunning show for his first outing on Broadway, and whilst it felt more like a ballet with songs (unsurprisingly, given Wheeldon’s background) it was thoroughly enjoyable.  It didn’t challenge or move me in the same way that Fun Home did.  It didn’t have the depth or the earnest heart of the other show.  And that’s OK.  I think, perhaps all too often, I go to the theatre with a desire to see something new, bold, challenging, life-changing.  I really want that.  But it’s also good to be reminded that sometimes I also want ease, beauty, comfort.  I Got Ryhthm, and I got that – comfort – like a big steaming mug of New York hot chocolate.

The Memory Project with Vanessa Van Wormer Dance

We’ve been lucky enough to spend time in the sun-drenched Davies studios at Roehampton Dance this month, in transatlantic collaboration with Vanessa Van Wormer Dance on current work, The Memory Project.

It’s like a homecoming for us really, being back under the vaulted canopy of the airy studios of Froebel College – of course Heather and I spent many a sweaty, exuberant, emotional hour in these studios whilst completing our MFAs, and it is also where we met Vanessa when she joined us as an exchange student, so it was nice to be in familiar territory.

Vanessa’s latest project explores memory and the act of remembering, using objects and testimony as an impetus for movement material, and is a collaboration with composer Andrew Alden.  It was really exciting for us to share how we use memory within our own practice, techniques, processes and exercises that we use to delve into the ephemeral world of the remembered – and all of the slippages that that presents.  It was so interesting to see our individual styles and genres mould, meld and groove along together – Vanessa’s work is very much rooted in contemporary ballet, and our desires move from contemporary dance, live art and physical theatre.

We can’t wait to see the final piece next year!

You can find out more about Vanessa van Wormer Dance here.

A cathedral of British theatre

For what seems like eons, we’ve been quietly sidestepping and touring detours around the National Theatre on the South Bank.  A firm favourite of our spaces, despite it’s rather brutal facade (and interior, for that matter), The Nash has been under refurbishment for some time, and is finally fully open in all it’s facelifted glory.  We were lucky enough to have a meeting scheduled there yesterday evening, and it was wonderful to sit in the window, watching the sun lower over the Thames and enjoy what feels like a far more hospitable place.  It is light, inviting, and as vibrant as its stages.  I think we’ll be spending plenty more time in this cathedral of theatre – for pleasure as well as brief pre-show interludes.

You can read more about the work at the National in this excellent article from the Guardian.

Time travel in the kitchen

One of my favourite parts of researching and performing Every Way Up Has its Way Down is that it has meant I’ve had the opportunity to dig into my family’s traditions; and specifically, my family’s relationship with food. Coming from Italian-American and Jewish ancestry, food is the cornerstone of family gatherings, holidays, celebrations and occassions that signal the seasons changing, and the passing of another year.

The irresistible smell of my grandmother’s roasted carrots and garlic on a Sunday (there was a long running joke that no matter how many pounds of carrots my Uncle would peel, my sister and I would always demand more), the nose-crinkling taste of gefilte fish and eye-watering hit of horseradish that my mother’s mother served when the occasion called for these delicacies to appear on the dinner table, the brunch table laden with bagels, cream cheese and lox whenever there were guests and the addition of lasagne and antipasti to our American Thanksgiving… The food we ate connected me to the history and stories of my grandparents’ parents, grandparents and those who came before them, and those before them.

On my mother’s last trip to London, she generously brought with her a few of her go-to recipe books. Now, we aren’t talking about the type of cookery books you can buy at Waterstone’s… these are collections of family recipes compiled by a community, bound neatly in plastic binding (does anyone else remember that?!) and peppered with faint pencil marks noting helpful variations and substitutions, courtesy of my mother.

photo 1-1 photo 2-1

There are two cookbooks that date to the early 1970s. (Our recipes of today may call for a long list of ingredients (Ottolenghi style) or insist upon organic this, and ancient grain that, and in contrast, these recipes call for ingredients such as “cake mix”, “instant pudding”, “instant coffee”, and “canned fruit”!)

Anyway, last winter when Amy & I were preparing for our performances of Every Way Up… I decided that my family’s recipe for kugel would make a great addition to the treats we serve as part of the show. I emailed my mum and asked for her recipe, and in turn, she responded with no less than three suggestions from the book above, along with the comments:

“I usually combined cream cheese and sour cream
With eggs and cooked noodles and sugar. Usually
Added jar apricot preserve or good apple pie filling.
I don’t know how I would make it now.
Have fun. How bad could it turn out?!! Xo”

Right, so no definitive family recipe for kugel then, I guess! I turned to the cookbooks for clarity and unfortunately found 15 more variations on noodle kugel! The only thing that became clear to me was that my fondness for this nostalgia inducing sweet & decadent classic was not unique. My love of kugel was shared with many others!

Needless to say, I took my mum’s advice to heart, decided on my ratio of eggs, to butter, to dairy, tracked down the closest thing to egg noodles I could find in London (I discovered yet another American ingredient that I didn’t actually realise was American!) and whacked a kugel in the oven.

And my mum was right, with those ingredients it wasn’t too shabby at all. In fact, it turned out to be pretty delicious!

If you want to try your hand at noodle kugel, follow the recipe below:

My Family’s Noodle Kugel

12oz wide egg noodles
4 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
8 oz cream cheese
8 oz sour cream
8 oz unsalted butter, melted
1 small jar of apricot preserves (8oz of so)
cornflakes (optional)

Boil and drain noodles.  Combine all but last ingredient.  Put half of the noodle mixture in a greased 9×13 baking dish.  Spread apricot preserves over the noodles.  Top with remaining noodle mixture. (Optional: crush and sprinkle top of kugel with cornflakes for a crunch topping if desired.)  Bake at 350 degrees for about 60 minutes until set.

Cake – and the Weight of History

This afternoon I went to collect the cake for tomorrow’s performance.  We like share various tastes with our audiences, and whilst we usually bake our own recipes, the Health and Safety powers-that-be dictated that we can only serve food made under the watchful eye of a Food Hygiene certificate.

So I dashed across town to Rinkhoff’s.  It’s funny really – yet another strange turn back around the spiral of time.  Around this time last year, we visited Rinkhoff’s on a self-guided tour of the East End.  It was sadly closed by the time we got there, and the only thing we had of the bakery was it’s historical spiel – bakers and purveyors of deliciousness in East London since 1911.  And the spot on which I once stood on a chilly, windy day and gazed at closed metal shutter, and the spot from which I collected bagels and cake for Every Way Up tomorrow.  Bagels made by the same Family, and which are probably made according to the same recipes as in 1911.  Recipes which probably stretch back far further – perhaps, recipes like ours, which are made at family gatherings and handed down through generations.

And as I walked back down Whitechapel Road, with bagels in my bag, and an armful of boxed sweet treats, along the stretch of market amid the din of voices which now occupy the neighbourhood, it dawned on me – weighed on me even – that we have too become part of this place.  That our stories, this story which draws so much from the history of these streets, has also added back to them.  That the bigger narrative continues and that it moves and we move with it.

Come and join us at the Roundhouse tomorrow – come for a bite of bagel and our stories.

http://www.roundhouse.org.uk/whats-on/accidental-festival-2014/every-way-up-has-its-down/

A thought experiment: The Choreography of Cooking (a feast)

I spent the last few days getting ready to host my first Thanksgiving dinner. This American holiday is one of my favourites; I love the long, lazy hours spent draped in the arms of a dining room chair surrounded by family and friends, the silly – and serious – traditions kept through the years and of course the seemingly never ending indulgence of filling up your dinner plate more times than is most likely advisable.

Choreography, for me, is about composition and creating meaning – either explicitly or abstractly.

The signs and signifiers of Thanksgiving may have been different than the ones I’d use in performance but the attention to space and meaning making were the same.

  • Playworld: inviting home, long dining table dressed formally for the occasion with cranberries, pumpkins and decorative squirrels
  • Actions: hand drawn turkeys (childhood tradition), pumpkin pie and Turkey (Thanksgiving doesn’t exist without both in my book), a glass of bubbly raised with dear friends to begin the meal
  • Performers: 7 adults and 3 children…. Okay, okay,  so I admit this attempt at comparison isn’t watertight but somewhere my attraction and respect for tradition and ritual is married – I am sure of it! – with my choreographic eye and love of the theatrical.

-HC

Lloyd Newson of DV8 on ‘MAKING CONNECTIONS BETWEEN MEANING, MOVEMENT, MUSIC AND TEXT IN THEATRE’

I took the overground from south of the river to Whitechapel and as I stepped out of the station, I was swept up into the bustle of the East End as I made my way to Queen Mary University to attend a talk by Artist-in-Residence Lloyd Newson.

He was there as resident artist on a grant from the Leverhulme foundation – each time the word emotion or feeling was mentioned, a sly look or at one point a thumbs up was given to the head (I believe) of the Centre for the History of Emotions at QMUL. (Perhaps I’m cynical but these actions led to creating a story in my head… I pictured the board of the awarding funding body pointing their fingers at the two men: “Make sure you’re using this money as agreed on page 23,477 of your contract upon disbursement”. Cynical? Sure.

That being said, I shouldn’t let my telling of those few moments lead you astray, as the 45 minute talk was thoroughly engaging.

Lloyd started from the very beginning (“my parents did such-and-such for a living”, “I went to this school”) which was not as indulgent as it sounds when it becomes apparent that his upbringing in the class divided suburbs of Melbourne coloured his psychologist/social worker trained self turned prolific choreographer.

PAUSE

The words that  stuck with me from the talk are:
Belief
Authenticity
Social
Genuine
Real
Verbatim

PLAY

You only have to look at a few of DV8s piece to realise they have something to say. Politically and socially.  They have a strong point of view.

What I really appreciated about Lloyd’s candidly delivered talk, was his frankness about the struggles he has in making work.

For example, his years of dance training has led to an appreciation of technical ability. He wants to work with articulate dancers and knows that turn out and an impressive arabesque are hallmarks of a certain facility and skill level. Yet you won’t find an arabesque in his work. As he said joyously:

What does an arabesque really say? Really.  To me, it says ‘Look at me!! I’m great!!’

Oh, how delightful to hear those words said out loud by such an established choreographer! My own personal feelings on the topic of technical facility is similar, and so those words fell on sympathetic ears.

Another favourite moment of the evening was when, I assume, a student, asked about his relationship to authenticity and the site of a dance work. I could hear the student’s plea in her voice as she tried to rephrase it to get across her query (I felt the hours of research in her words and could hear the passion in her question) and as Lloyd did his best to answer, which was to say that he felt a dancer could be authentic anywhere, I could feel the schism between artist and academic.

Where is the meeting between the two, and to what purpose? My cynical brain yet again says funding (artists need to find the money, institutions appear to have systematic ways of accessing funds), but I’d like to think that there’s more to it than that. I hope to attend the next lecture Lloyd delivers later on in his year as Artist-in-Residence and I have a feeling he might have a strong point of view on the subject!