views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Blue Cloud Scratch
The Blue Elephant Theatre
31st May 2016


Maria Ines Sousa and Adrian Look in Sisyphus' Wife

Photography provided by The Blue Elephant Theatre

Well, I be done seen about everything, because I've seen an elephant fly. And flying high at that! Camberwell's friendly performing arts space, The Blue Elephant has teamed up with established dance platform, Cloud Dance Festival, to showcase brand new choreography and make dance more accessible at the same time. Whilst scratch nights are not uncommon in London, there's certainly a gap for one focussing on dance. This is a chance to provide feedback at an early stage and to ask the artists about their work in a safe environment where there are no stupid questions or daft opinions. If you're a regular theatregoer but never book tickets for dance shows, Blue Cloud Scratch may well change the way you see the medium.

Opening this scratch night with a modern reworking of an old story, Sisyphus' Wife immediately evokes sentiments of serenity and acceptance. I don't know about you, but if I had to push a boulder up a hill for all of eternity, I would be quite angry. Here, Adrian Look's Sisyphus seems a lot calmer about his plight than you might expect. Warm yellow lighting, soothing classical music and gentle movement almost suggest a new day, with all the connotations of positive beginnings that brings. Look cradles the boulder, which seems to have shrunk considerably from its depiction in Greek mythology, presumably because this Sisyphus doesn't see it as the burden that we do. It almost seems to be a part of who he is, with Sisyphus having made his peace with his situation.

When Maria Ines Sousa joins the performance as Sisyphus' wife, she begins to mimic Look's movements, eventually falling in sync with him, showing her character's willingness to stand by her man. Given spots in Tartarus don't open up for just any petty misdemeanour, her support is all the more meaningful and requires a certain sacrifice or forgiveness on her part. Sousa's attempts to extricate the rock from Look's grasp deliberately create loud, shocking noises which conflict with the tranquility previously established by Look. Whilst the wife isn't given a name in her own right, she's clearly a strong character and it's a delight to watch Sousa and Look performing together.

Piedad Albarracin Seiquer's CON-TACTO and Masha Gurina's Oom-pah Oom-pah are also quite personal, intimate pieces. In the latter, Gurina fuses her tango style with Savina Casarin's contemporary dance. Gurina's warmth and passion contrast with Casarin's strong, hard lines, yet the two different styles complement each other well. It's a pleasure to watch the two dancers create something new and unseen in front of us. Although Oom-pah Oom-pa doesn't have as strong a narrative arc as some of the other pieces, that doesn't take away from its beauty.

Thomas Hands and Piedad Albarracin Seiquer in CON-TACTO

Photography provided by The Blue Elephant Theatre

In Seiquer's CON-TACTO, she moves in sync with Thomas Hands, the two performers sharing each other's personal space yet never actually touching. It's fascinating to observe how intimate this is, without any actual human contact. When their bodies finally meet, it seems a natural progression of the dance. We don't realise how invested we are in their movement until they break apart and we feel a sudden sense of loss. Seiquer and Hands' expressions alternate between a fierce hunger and a relaxed contentment, their emotions reflecting the different cycles of any relationship. Again, it feels like we're quietly intruding on a private moment.

Camille Jetzer explores the link between movement and memory in What It Was When It Happened. Together with Fran Mangiacasale, she stumbles around the stage, her gestures trying to vocalise thoughts and recall memories. Anyone who talks with their hands will relate to the choreography here. A soundscape of conversation snippets put together by Gemma Riggs adds to the confusion as we find ourselves naturally tuning in and out of the sounds, our attention drifting. Although Jetzer obviously wants to keep this a light-hearted piece, I would like to see more emotion explored in What It Was When It Happened. Forgetting isn't always tragic and I do think Jetzer could probably bring more depth to this work, perhaps with some stronger lighting design to assist.

The most experimental performance is by far Immovable. Dancers Michelle Buckley, Eloise Hymas, Karianne Andreasson have some wild costume choices, with designer Manrutt Wongkaew capturing the bold and unafraid spirit of the piece with knotted hair, bold black and white stripes, punk makeup and even a necklace of sorts made up of multiple globes. It feels as if Julia K Gleich's choreography is trying to make a statement, however it's just not clear what it is. There's an interesting power dynamic with the different stances and pointe work, however if there is a message, it's lost in the glorious madness of it all.

With Blue Cloud Scratch an opportunity for UK resident artists to show off their work, it's perhaps unsurprising that there is at least one piece focusing on Generation Rent. Dancer Ines Zinho Pinheiro takes us through the hardship of trying to find somewhere vaguely decent to live in London, creating some fantastic physical humour with her big clowning movements and constant gurning. Choreographer Zuzanna Pilat puts in a great cameo as an annoying housemate with a nonstop outpouring of words, and Susan Hoffman's pre-recorded commentary clearly explains the plot. However, I could see this working even better as a silent movie, with Pinheiro's Charlie Chaplin-esque movements crying out for some jolly piano music and a written rather than spoken narration. Of all the different new works showcased, Pilat's LonDOoM is my favourite and I'd love to see a full length version return to The Blue Elephant.

Scratch performances can sometimes warrant pieces being rebuilt from ground zero, however most of these works-in-progress simply need to be fleshed out a bit more. Blue Cloud Scratch has shown itself to be a very welcome addition to the Off-West End performing arts scene. A rewarding experience for those on, off- and backstage which hopefully will become a regular event.

Blue Cloud Scratch ran on 31st May 2016 at the Blue Elephant Theatre.

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