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Bonnie Bird Theatre, Laban Dance Centre, Creekside, Deptford.
20 March 2003 & 8 October 2004

2003 programme:
FRONT LINE (Shostakovich 9th Quartet in E Flat - Carducci String Quartet live)
DIDO & AENEAS (recording starring Maria Ewing)
FINALE (A compilation of tracks by René Aubry)
Choreography: Henri Oguike
: Nuno Campos, Charlotte Eatock, Katharine Kerr, Sarita Piotrowski, Nuno Silva, Sarah Storer,
Graham Broadbent, Emma Denton, Matthew Denton, Katalin Varnagy

Laban (Herzog & de Meuron, in collaboration with visual artist Michael Craig-Martin) is one of the largest purpose-built contemporary dance centres in the world. A miracle of architecture in in a run-down part of South-East London, it is an exhilarating place to visit, as beautiful in the styling and finish of its internal spaces as its alluring and inviting exterior suggests. The centre celebrates the work of Rudolf Laban and his radical new ideas about the body and expression to music.

Musical Pointers approaches dance from a mainly musical perspective and relatively recent but untutored enthusiasm for modern dance live and on DVD (e.g. Rambert, Ek, Bourne, Marin etc). Three contrasting works by choreographer Henri Oguike were seen at this first visit to the Bonnie Bird Theatre. Oguike presents Dido's conflict as an internal one, Sarah Storer assuming also the role of the Sorceress, who becomes the embodiment of the dark side of Dido's personality in his interpretation. Dido dies, "torn apart by her own internal psychological conflict".

DIDO AND AENEAS was given against one of the most overtly emotional recorded interpretations of Purcell's heroine (Maria Ewing); interesting to watch but not wholly involving until its touching conclusion, with 'The Messenger' powerless to control events or revive Dido.

The two other items were abstract, FINALE, a deceptively relaxed and friendly interaction between six dancers to a lively compilation recorded score, unproblematic and thoroughly enjoyable.

Best for us was the first, FRONT LINE to Shostakovich's 9th Quartet played live by an accomplished young quartet seated across the back of the stage; a dance of uneasy changing moods in relationships, rejections prominent in the brief interactions, given with enormous energy, skill and inventive expression. Bare-footed, and marked by noisy stamping, a percussive counterpoint to Shostakovich's string quartet music, later 'anger followed by listlessness'. FRONT LINE is a very successful creation which we would enjoy watching repeatedly if it might become available on video?

Gradually during the evening one got to know the dancers as individuals. In contrast with the strait-jacketed regimentation of classical ballet, which brings future physical problems for the dancers in its train, this modern dance approach extends and enhances more natural movements, stretching to extremes, but with the body, not against it.

A word about the musical presentation. Modern dance is mostly presented to recordings and, characteristically, loud - as young audiences like it. That was fine for Finale but I would have preferred the recording of Dido & Aeneas projected at a slightly lower volume level.

Oguike likes to use live musicians, which is greatly to be encouraged. However, the Carducci string quartet could not project adequately from the back of the stage to where we were sitting *, close to the front, and in the first movement Shostakovich tended to be overwhelmed by the competition of dancers' stamping, and by the natural primacy of sight over sound. After the first movement one adjusted and the music worked well with the dancing. Heresy for a long-term campaigner against amplification to raise this vexed question, but a minimal degree of 'enhancement' by a sensitive sound engineer (using 'delay' and 'state of the art' equipment) might have helped to equalize the aural and visual aspects of this fascinating dance work.

These themes can be pursued in my earlier reports of Michael O'Gorman's pioneering work in this field, and my recent "Why not amplify them?" - (Technology for the Twenty First Century).

8 October 2004 programme:
F.P.S. (Frames per Second)


Choreography: Henri Oguike
: Nuno Campos, Charlotte Eatock, Rebecca Gould, Anthony Kurt, Adrian Lopez, Rachael Mossom, Sarita Piotrowski, Nuno Silva, Sarah Storer

Questions of amplification arose again when the HENRI OGUIKE DANCE COMPANY returned to Laban during their extensive international 2004 tour. There was an extra dimension, because the first of two sold-out evenings had Laban packed with irrepressible young schoolgirls, who screeched around the building like a flock of roosting starlings and whose teachers could do little to restrain them. One is loath to dampen youthful enjoyment but they did make it hard for others to concentrate on FRONT LINE.

*However, acoustics are infinitely surprising and unpredicatable, and from the near-back of Bonnie Bird Theatre the experience was strikingly different from last year's; the prizewinning Pavão Quartet projected easily the still fairly unfamiliar Shostakovich No. 9, which they know inside out from this extensive project. The balance between music and dance was perfect, and the unamplified music was not at all upstaged by the bare-foot stamping dancing.

WHITE SPACE to Scarlatti sonatas from the composer's 'Complete Works' - they would be, wouldn't they? - had the dancers accompanied by a recording (whose?) which was grotesquely over-amplified as transmitted - perhaps the intention was to drown the noise from the kids? An opportunity lost to introduce young audiences to the harpsichord, an instrument many of them might never listen to again, and one which can hold its own without having its character totally changed.

The dance movements were interestingly unbeautiful, angular and jerky, probably taking a cue from the Scarlatti music. The lighting and visual effects by Guy Hoare, based on Mondrian patterns, was stunning.

Substantial reliance upon live music is one of the HENRI OGUIKE DANCE COMPANY's great virtues, and the Pavãos played again in F.P.S. (Frames per Second) for Henri Oguike's own solo, followed by a duet for two men, lead violinist Kerenza Peacock and cellist Bryony James making striking solo contributions to this oasis of relative calm. Oguike held the attention with a flowing continuity linking the sudden athletic movements of his creation; no question but that he was the star of the show, all items too being to his own choreography.

To end, as last year, FINALE again, and we were perfectly comfortable with the high level at which the René Aubry compilation was transmitted through Laban's state-of-the-art sound system.

There is a fine CD of the Shostakovich Quartets 8 & 9 by the Aviv Quartet from Israel, received and recommended after they played No 9 at Wigmore Hall to great acclaim.

Henri Oguike Dance Company at Queen Elizabeth Hall, 26 March 2007

Nuno Silva Nuno Campos Chihiro Kawasaki Noora Kela Sarah Linstra Laura Pena Nunez WeiChun Luo Fukiko Takase

Little Red World Premiere: Laban January 2007 Two of Vivaldi’s magnificent violin concertos breathe fire into Little Red.
Tiger Dancing Inspired by Blake’s poem The Tyger, the plucked strings and springy lines of Steve Martland’s score are reflected by the dancers' sinuous and feline movements in Tiger Dancing.
Expression Lines Set to the Saharan blues of guitarist Ali Farka Toure, Expression Lines evokes the harsh contrasts of equatorial sand and sky in an intense yet reflective solo [World premiere February 2006; dancer Henri Oguike or Nuno Silva [pictured]
Green in Blue World Premiere: January 2007 " - the choreographer’s first foray into jazz, with the internationally renowned saxophonist Iain Ballamy - the dancers infuse a crisp yet playful energy into this full company work.

The extracts above come from the over-priced £3.50 glossy, illustrated "programme", which was actually the brochure for the entire national tour; leaving doubt even as to whether we would see Mr Oguike himself dancing the one solo item. We thought at QEH he probably did appear, but it might have been Nuno Silva, who was billed as his alternate... (Expression Lines was played in near darkness, punctuated by the company's signature lighting effect of dazzling searchlights.)

We were unable to catch the company at Laban this year and saw them instead at QEH. As noted previously, this company's Achilles' heel is their insensitivity towards presentation of their (often well chosen) music.

Having made a big thing about Vivaldi and his concertos, a good HIF recording on period instruments was pounded out of the loud speakers at such a volume that we had to listen and watch the dancers with our ears covered and, later, move far back in the hall...

The company specifies its sound requirements "FOH PA with onstage monitors Minidisc and CD playback 1 x DI box on stage (for use with a Mini DV player during performance)" but its personnel list conspicuously lacks a music director... They need to appoint one, a music lover who has heard this music live!

The dance items were little longer than the intervals between them, and the evening was generally unsatisfactory and disappointing, though greeted vociferously by fans in the only half-full hall. The live-jazz item was to our ears and eyes very ordinary; best was the effective Blake/Martland item, with that composer, who notably likes it loud, limiting himself to a string orchestra, with substantial passages in pizzicato.

Peter Grahame Woolf