22 February 2019
Author: Donald Hutera & Isobel Rogers

Thu 21 Feb:AYENAI/Tasarla Watson/Caterina Danzico & Jeph Vanger

AYENAI Living Here?

Tasarla Watson: ASAR Dance Co Trance With Me

Caterina Danzico & Jeph Vanger The Lost Art of Being

This was the kind of Resolution I desire – imperfect, but giving a feeling of having lucked out in terms of the quality and promise of what’s on offer.

It started well with the collective Ayenai’s Living Here?, a duet framed as a quartet thanks to the prominent presence of gypsy/jazz guitarist (and composer) Andrea Todesco and double bass player Peter Thomas. The percolating – but also lulling – rhythms of their live soundtrack bolstered the movement of co-choreographers Aurore Vigneron and Isabel Alvarez. The women played sober territorial games on a symbolic centrestage sofa – could it be the UK? They rolled, flipped and fell over, off and around this sole piece of furniture in a questioning exercise designed to address the (Brexit-heightened) idea of how hard it can be to feel like you belong in a foreign country. Although quite creditable, the work still lacks the kinetic tension and psycho-emotional layering needed to make it resonate more widely and deeply.

Tasarla Watson and her cheekily talented dancers, the distinctly individual but equally terrific Becky Knight and Rachel Saxon, have a hit on their hands in Trance With Me. Set to a string of music (from ‘Sway’ and ‘Pink Panther’ to Piaf and Vivaldi), this young, smart, fresh and funny performance kept me grinning. It’s like a two-person party buoyed by a throwaway sense humour that is sustained, delightfully goofy and confidently knowing. As the buxom Knight sagely remarks after she and stringbean Saxon indulge themselves in another bout of full-on, pop-inflected motion, ‘With laughter comes enjoyment.’

The truths of The Lost Art of Being were of an entirely different nature: raw yet richly stylised, and delivered by four extraordinarily tough yet somehow vulnerable women (including choreographer Caterina Danzico) with exemplary and at times convulsive tribal intensity. Driven by sound artist Jeph Vanger’s epic and immersive electronic score, they fully inhabit a stark, mysterious stage universe in which invisible currents of power, defeat, animal instinct, communal connection and explosive aggression impact the air they breathe. Danzico, Vanger and company could be onto something big here: a dance work that’s almost a metaphor for the survival of a species, and ripe for further development. After a manically clubby climax I wasn’t ready for it to end.

Donald Hutera

An initial shout-out goes to Tasarla Watson, who dares to twerk on the Duke’s Road stage in Trance With Me. Choreography can be a po-faced affair, an exercise in taking yourself very seriously. Becky Knight and Rachel Saxon are tongue-in-cheek and self-deprecating. We bombard through Vivaldi, Pink Panther and Sean Paul’s Like Glue. Saxon’s sparkly-trousered bottom is enthusiastically shaken, and at high speed, to bizarrely comic effect, while Knight gyrates in sunglasses under the strobe at their 90s rave. ‘That was some contemporary dance!’ Knight proclaims to us. ‘TUUUUUUUUNE!!!’ is this duo’s recurring declaration. It’s beautifully-delivered pastiche. I want to see more of these women, and party with them besides.

Living Here?, which opened the night, is a remarkable first outing by AYENAI. The sensitive finger-picking of onstage guitarist (Andrea Todesco) and double bassist (Pete Thomas) grips me. The work is a domestic, semi-pedestrian exploration of place, like Justin Bieber’s ‘Love Yourself’ video but deeper. Aurore Vigneron and Isabel Alvarez slide and collapse across a sofa, throw cushions off and struggle to comfort each other. The movement makes no literal sense but is figuratively powerful and more than the sum of its parts. Promising.

In The Lost Art of Being, Caterina Danzico leads her female tribe of four in a lithe, animalistic crawl across the floor and up the walls: hyenas in forty-degree heat, eyes half closed but riled inside. Sound artist Jeph Vanger skillfully controls the pulsations – so loud they reverberate around my chest. The dance has a primal looseness, an ingenuity to the head shakes while they take goddess poses. A fierce pack in box braids, they’re fired up, as if they’re prisoners or stranded on an island. Danzico inspects the others' open mouths. They all flat-plane their arms in aggressive synchronicity. They hold their jaws as if wearing mouthguards, prepping for a boxing match. The concept is rich and involving, deserving of full length exploration.

Isobel Rogers


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