Dance Umbrella Silver Celebration

Akram Khan, 'If Not Why Not'; Sara Rudner, 'Heartbeat'; David Gordon and Valda Setterfield, 'Private Lives of Dancers'; Siobhan Davies Dance Company, 'Bird Song'; Richard Alston 'Roughcut' (excerpt)

by Petra Tschiene

October 23, 2003 -- Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Photo of Akram Khan by Roy Peters


Thursday’s "Silver Celebration" celebrated Dance Umbrella’s 25th anniversary with a line up of very different works. The evening started with the UK premier film screening of Akram Khan’s "If Not Why Not" accompanied live by Cellist Philippe Sheppard. Unfortunately the film’s director or editor clearly had been labouring under the misconception that it was his job to make the material interesting. There were a lot of swift cuts, tricks, and extended eyes or face close ups while the dancer in question was clearly dancing. The last section of the film, which showed all five dancers performing in a white space seemingly without floor and walls, worked best and let Khan’s choreography speak for itself.

Next Sara Rudner, the American dancer and choreographer who had appeared in the very first Dance Umbrella Festival in 1978, recreated her work "Hearbeat". Using the amplified nerve impulses that Rudner’s brain sends to her heart and the surrounding tissue as a percussion sound track the piece explores the heart as both sophisticated pump and “seat of the soul”. Although this idea is intriguing and the background track is interwoven with a spoken scientific text about cardiac theory, jazz vocals and even a saxophone solo, Rudner’s choreography is not engaging enough to sustain the work through its 18 minutes. Less time would have been more.

After the interval David Gordon and Valda Setterfield performed a duet from "Private Lives of Dancers". Gordon’s dead serious "yes" and "no" replies to his partner’s questions while they cleared the stage of furniture were just perfect in their comic timing. Then the couple danced, walking forwards and backwards, half turning, moving their arms, accompanied by interview snippets of great partnerships of the past -- Gertrud Lawrence and Noel Coward, Merce Cunnigham and Robert Raushenberg and Toni Lander and Bruce Marks. Gordon and Setterfield’s performance drew a very enthusiastic response from the audience and the evening took off from there.

Siobhan Davies Dance Company shone in an excerpt from Davies’s brand new piece "Bird Song" which is due to receive its full length world premiere in spring 2004. Henry Montes was spellbinding in a solo set to a score mainly consisting of a very beautiful bird song recording. His fluid performance did the beauty of the score full justice. If this excerpt is anything to go by "Bird Song" will be one of the 2004 "must-sees". I for one can hardly wait.

Last but not least Richard Alston paid tribute to Dance Umbrella “To Val with my love” with an excerpt from "Roughcut", originally created for Rambert Dance Company in 1990. His company of nine dancers positively sparkled and made the most of the lively bubbly choreography set to Steven Reich’s "New York Counterpoint" for clarinet and tape. The evening that had started rather slow ended deservedly on a high note. I am already curious about what dance delicatessens will be served up for the Dance Umbrella Gold Celebration in 25 years.

Edited by Holly Messitt

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