Words by Bengi-Sue Sirin.
If you read the interview I published just last week, you’ll know that I was very much looking forward to seeing the 60-strong creative event that was New Movement Collective’s (NMC) Les Noces. Many elements held promise; from the unique setting, to the variety of soundscapes, and the collaboration-centric style of NMC themselves. And now, having seen it on Saturday night at Woolwich Works, I can confirm that it lived up to the hype!
Walking into the performance space set the tone with aplomb. Woolwich Works (also known as the Fireworks Factory), is a gorgeous and gargantuan expanse. With even more gorgeous and gargantuan acoustics! To suit an in-the-round show, seating was arranged into smaller group sections, some around tables like in a jazz bar. A mounted platform with suited and booted musicians enhances this feeling. On top of that, I am not the only person to comment that the long central stage makes it all feel rather like a runway show. Very different from Sadler’s Wells!
The evening opened with Andrea Balency-Bearn’s musical response to Stravinsky’s eponymous score. In homage to Stravinsky, it was avant-garde with scattershot eerieness and lots of experimental sounds, most prominently, the bell. As it drew to an end, a man (Ross Rambogin) walked onstage holding a book. With baritone brio, Rambogin began: “My dearest Merce……”, thrusting us into Yshani Perinpanayagam’s composition titled ‘Cage Letters.’ Yes – real (and read-into-able) letters written to Merce Cunningham by his long-term collaborator John Cage. At this point, the NMC dancers appeared from the ether and discretely gathered themselves around and eventually on the long stage. I was transfixed; sentences such as “Take me in your arms and lengthen…. Lengthen…. LENGTHEN…..,” hit differently in opera mode.
Perinpanayagam’s piece seamlessly blended into Stravinsky’s ‘Les Noces.’ This was helped by the dramatic entrance of soprano April Koyejo Audiger, who dazzled with both her arrestingly stunning voice and her very shiny necklace. Koyejo Audiger moved from one end of the stage/catwalk to the other, singing all the while, with dancers now collecting in clumps near her. She made her way to join Rambogin and two other opera singers, near to the Opera Holland Park Chorus and the musicians.
And then it was the turn of the New Movement Collective to grasp our attention. The nine dancers, including beautifully slick Patricia Okenwa who I interviewed recently, utilised the in-the-round space with consideration. They moved in a sort of interconnected clump, like molecules searching out new chemical compounds to join, sending sudden jolts of jut-out movements in every direction. Each breakout was impassioned, striving. There were moments of connection too; holding hands in a circle, creating wavelike undulations. It is interesting these two extremes were so prominent, especially considering that NMC chose to call their Les Noces ‘The Departure’, a very particular interpretation of Bronislava Nijinska’s ‘Les Noces’ being known as ‘The Wedding.’ To me, the name choice and the movement language strongly imply that we certainly form connections during weddings, but they can also be occasions which emphasise a leaving behind.
One movement metaphor stood out in very clear homage to the notion of weddings, however. The dancers removed their smart white shirt jackets, and within swift swirls of pairwork, somehow strung them all together, sleeve by sleeve, in a figurative ‘tying the knot.’ A dancer attached this long white trail of fabric to her head, a la wedding veil, and trudged, alone, the length of the catwalk/stage/now seeming aisle. Viewed like this, the veil appeared heavy and burdensome. I recently read a Junji Ito short story where the cranium of every single ancestor stacks on top of the recent living relative, so when you marry them, you marry the whole family. This came to mind – the generational baggage aspect of marriage.
However, NMC didn’t linger too long on the darkness of that moment. There were 4 fiery duets, and even what reminded me of two drunk uncles at the end of the night. True to what Okenwa told me beforehand, this version of Les Noces doesn’t force an interpretation onto you. It ended ambiguously, with dancers revolving in their molecular way again like leaves in the wind, to the sound rather like church bells. Overall, the piece did dynamism and group work very strongly, but broadness of movement language perhaps less so. I thought the dancers were terrific and gave it everything they had.
The evening didn’t end there. We Saturday showgoers were treated to a final piece called Rhythmic Resurgence: Rebirth of Stravinsky’s Les Noces Through Beatbox Fusion, namely Company Chameleon Youth Dance accompanied by Beatbox champion MC Zani. MC Zani (Jack Hobbs) was on stage, often pulled into the fold of movement by the high energy and highly talented young dancers. It was fireworks and fizz and I want to see more Youth Dance Companies involved in ticketed dance shows. Bravo!