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Laban &Portugal
at Laban 6-10 December 2005

Laban joined with Trinity College of Music in August to consitute a leading force for music and dance in the Metropolis, "Laban Trinity".

Musical Pointers has for some years now been including occasional coverage of the public performances held regularly in the famous new building's Bonnie Bird Theatre, and this month there is to be seen there the results of collaboration with Portugal.

Movimento5 is the second annual showcase at Laban of Portuguese contemporary choreography, supported by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

Tânia Carvalho: A silent explosion is not quite disturbing and I walk, you sing

This was a short but potent programme with first a solo by Tânia Carvalho A silent explosion is not quite disturbing', about the impotent, private struggles of a woman seemingly imprisoned in her life as a housewife

She was rooted to the spot, metaphorically, with a pair of white Stone Shoes, her arm movements jagged and inrreasingly frenetic, with episodes of stasis with her body bowed to the ground. Having conveyed her despair she finishes by putting on her public face at the end, expressing a false sense of stoical serenity, as if nothing was wrong....

It was followed with I walk, you sing, an absorbing new subversive work about isolation and community developed by Tânia with the Sadler's Wells' Company of Elders (Over 60s Performance Group). Going against traditional ballets' fixation with pubescent bodies, it was a pleasure to spend half an hour with this group of supple middle aged women such as rarely grace the dance/ballet stage, and who expressed their feelings about life with humour and resignation.

Both works were distinguished by adventurous choices of music, right up 'our street'! We heard vocal music reminiscent of Scelsi's (in quest of whom we went to a Gulbenkian Festival in Lisbon a few years back) and some Bach, Beethoven and Mahler heard in versions by Glen Gould and Uri Caine, a "cross-over" composer championed by us for some years.

Francisco Camacho Existential Divide

This was a complex and fully engrossing work developed and performed with some twenty Laban students during a five-week residency.

The stage was opened up to its fullest size and we watched a fragmented panorama of young dancers locked in their own very individual personalities and personal stories, of which they disclosed fragments by movement, facial expression and occasional sound and utterances, couples coming together from time to time in transient sexual engagement... What came across included humour and violence, all expressed with telling body movement, with a little Portuguese music occasionally.

Compulsive watching, a picture of the human condition of today's urban young people, obliquely introduced by a gnomic note: "A work, an object, a piece of architecture, a photograph, but equally a crime or an event, must be the allegory of something, be a challenge to someone, bring chance into play and produce vertigo". I can't do better, but it fits somehow. We were not privy to the meaning of what we were watching, and the people on stage were unknowable.


Miguel Pereira Corpo de Baile & Antonio Miguel

The power and intensity of Carvalho and Camacho's conceptions whetted the appetite for the last programmes of the new Portuguese choreographers, with the Company Miguel Pereira.

'Corpo de Baile' is a brilliant and imaginative take on the essence of dance: the body. Miguel Pereira with the assistance of Antonio Tagliarini (both also as dancers of the group) explored the body as an instrument of communication with all its naked potential juxtaposed to the body adorned - or, perhaps, camouflaged - with identity creating garments; identities subject to change and even misappropraiation.

To dress or not to dress turned into an hour long spellbinding question. 'Corpo de Baile' is a veritable visual symphony composed around seven male dancers, who perform mostly as self-contained elements but make their impact as an ensemble - like an orchestra. A single dancer leads into the work. The others join, first in stillness and silence, then almost imperceptible faint movements build up.

A gradually increasing mayhem, centred around dressing and undressing, gets going to reach a climax with colourful garments tossed into and swirling around the air to a frenetic sound of stamping feet. The work ends with a 'recapitulation', a hilarious overstuffing of elements on top of each other. Literally - a dancer previously left out in the chase for garments, piles the whole groups clothes higgledy-piggeldy onto his own greedy body, to be joined by his double jumping out of the wings in the same state of over-blown dress - like two huge drumbeats bringing this symphony to a conclusion.

Humour pervades the whole of 'Corpo de Baile'. The works seen in Movimento 5 can indeed be characterised by a welcome breeze of fun emanating from the choreography and the accomplished dancers. Laughter is a powerful tool to create human connectedness. We could do with a lot more of it on these Northern shores!

The nature of identity, the culture versus nature debate, was taken a step further and explored in Miguel Pereira's hour-long work 'Antonio Miguel', performed with great authority by Pereira and his 'alter ego' Antonio Tagliarini.

If ever you dreamed of, or envied, being in command of an adoring audience as a pop idol then the opening sequence of 'Antonio Miguel' will have imprinted itself for ever on your mind as a warning. The rendering of a glittering bewigged effigy of a 'star' stuck in a put-on identity was devastatingly and breathtakingly uncomfortable for the audience (a few members unable to restrain nervous tittering) and, no doubt, for the performer as well. It was also an astonishing feat of holding an impossibly tiring body posture - until eventually breaking down into violent spasms - for what seemed an eternity. That phenomenon is normally only encountered, and rarely, in psychiatric patients with flexibilitas cerea.

Liberation seemed to come with a return to literally naked simplicity - two bodies in comfortable, beautiful and sometimes erotic interactions with playful acceptance of each other. Nature or rather naturalness wins out, but this is a naturalness which is highly sophisticated, a cultural statement through complex tableaux of moving sculptures created with and through the bodies of dancers with great and reverberating artistry.

Movimento 5 has given us a vivid, refreshing and thought provoking few days at the exceptional Laban dance venue. Please come back, hopefully to join packed audiences next time round!

Alexa and Peter Woolf

If you're within range of Deptford, it's definitely worth checking out the programmes at Laban, but also wise to enquire about the length of an evening's offerings before making a long journey there. The three Carvalho and Camacho items totalled about 65 mins on stage altogether and would have made an ideal triple bill but, for logistical reasons no doubt, they were spread over two evenings.... Living close by, no problem for us, and we got home in time to see Harold Pinter's devastating Nobel Prize acceptance speech on TV.

© Peter Grahame Woolf