Henri Oguike Dance Company
10th Anniversary Spring Tour 2009
Queen Elizabeth Hall
Retrospectives are strange entities; existing as stand-alone performances for those witnessing the work for the first time whilst for those who have followed the maker's work it is a celebration of their achievement, an enjoyable revisit to happy nights in the theatre.
I'm an Henri Oguike first-timer for this collection of performances, which commemorate the Nigerian/Welsh choreographer's impact on the world of modern dance. Kicking off with Front Line, it was clear why Oguike's work has become so successful. The Pavao Quartet stride onto the bare stage and take their places. Their stirring performance of Shostakovich's 9th Quartet in E Flat leads the six black-clad dancers through a pounding twenty minutes of ferocious material.
The performers are flung through narrow pathways of light, a claustrophobic space out of which their leaps and high kicks are trying to escape. As a violin solo soars, the movement follows, perfectly in time with each other. As the stage is washed in light, the swirling bodies cast giant shadows on the back wall, a frenzy of motion gloriously in tune with the frenetic playing from our quartet.
It's an exhilarating performance, one that triumphs through the sheer power of the performers as they slap each other, and hurl each other's bodies to the floor.
Unfortunately, the rest of the evening doesn't live up to this promise. The camp fun of White Space, an exploration into the world of Baroque, never moves beyond the sexy looks at the audience and remains firmly with its tongue in cheek. Live harpsichord, played by Carole Cerasi, evokes the atmosphere of the era and Oguike amuses with his modern take on the style, most notably in a series of solos which are lit in a contained box by Guy Hoare. Here, the dancers delight in the knowing looks to us, but also explore evocative spins and twists which twirls the Baroque tradition on its head. More of this and less of the bird-like head movements which dominate please!
Falling is a dance-film which premiered last year. Inspired by NASA astronaut Steve MacLean's space walk, at its best it compares human existence to a fleck of dust floating through the sky. For the most part however, its resembles a slick and shiny advert for a perfume. Clips of astronauts floating in space are overtaken by shots of a man and a woman tumbling in slow motion through the air, their silky shirt and dress highlighting the fluidity of their movement. Singer and pianist Errollyn Wallen does her best to endow the film with deeper meaning with her Kate Bush-like vocals, but ultimately the film is too concerned with close-ups of its beautiful olive skinned dancers to say anything all that new about Steve MacLean's experience in space.
The same could be said for Finale, a frothy piece of dance which looks great but doesn't say very much. Although perhaps it doesn't need to. The ensemble pieces delights in the latin-infected guitar rhythms of René Aubry - the only piece not to feature live music - and the performers seem to be having a whale of a time as they whirl, jump and career around the stage. Their abandon is at first infectious, but by the end smacks more of a company altogether too pleased with themselves. This is particularly true of guest dancer Kevin Turner who struts around with knowing smirks to the audience for the entire piece. Finale is fun, but not one moment stuck in my mind two minutes after the curtain call - a grave disappointment following a promising start.
Final date for this tour is 27 March at Bracknell's South Hill Park
Reviewer: Terry O'Donovan