Elixir Festival Mixed Bill: common ground[s] / Minutes around late afternoon / White Hare

Choreography by Germaine Acogny & Malou Airaudo, Louise Lecavalier, Ben Duke
Elixir Festival
Sadler's Wells

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common ground[s] Credit: Maarten Vanden Abeele
common ground[s] Credit: Maarten Vanden Abeele
common ground[s] Credit: Maarten Vanden Abeele
Louise Lecavalier Credit: Gigi Giannella
Louise Lecavalier Credit: Gigi Giannella
White Hare Credit: Gigi Giannella
White Hare Credit: Gigi Giannella

For one night only, this triple bill opener for the Elixir Festival, which runs from 10 to 20 April, illustrates its premise firmly: age cannot wither nor custom stale the infinite variety of ageless dance on offer tonight. Age range—from late seventies to mid-sixties and mid- to late forties—physical theatre embraces them all. Pina Bausch has a lot to answer for…

common ground[s] by Germaine Acogny (“the mother of African contemporary dance” and founder of École des Sables) and Malou Airaudo (one of Pina’s early cohort) was to have been the accompanying piece to the École des Sables young dancers performing Pina’s The Rite of Spring here in June 2022, but COVID sabotaged that.

It would make perfect sense to see the two together: the old reminiscing (“what will be will be”), the young dancing for their lives. Slow, meditative, to ambient music by Fabrice Bouillon LaForest, two women in long black shifts face the twilight (shadowy lighting by Zeynep Kepekli) together, talk of their ancestors, fondly care for each other. Walking sticks are warrior size, tall, symbolic; embraces remind of religious iconography. Life goes on and on.

Louise Lecavalier performs her own choreographic solo, Minutes around late afternoon, adapted from previous works, to pounding music by Antoine Berthiaume (Lien 3), The black dog (Bass mantra, Greddy gutter guru), Dawn of midi (Atlas). Former principal dancer of the Montreal-based company La La La Human Steps in the 1980s–90s, Lecavalier has lost none of her dynamism.

In joggers, T-shirt and long, hooded, light coat that acts as a stage prop, she has more energy than many decades younger, and she looks decades younger than her official sixty-five. If that is not encouragement to dance… Alain Lortie and François Blouin keep the lighting dark with a pool of light for her to dance in—as if it were her living room.

Her statement of intent in the programme is worth a read: the complexity of dance, its ‘visceral’ varieties, vibrations, tremors, its simplicity and joy. “Dance is a duo with the void.” We can all do this—dance in our homes to music of our choosing. But I doubt with her unflagging energy and fervour. It’s a club beat that drives her almost manic indulgence. It looks an inviting improvisatory workout.

Ben Duke (age 47) was commissioned by Sadler’s Wells to contribute to the festival, and he has come up with his usual ironic, satiric, at times inscrutable piece of dance theatre, White Hare. Fusing as he does his studies in English Lit, acting and dancing, cross-fertilising all three in his idiosyncratic way, he seems to be addressing mortality with the help of a tortoise (Tipple its name) on screen.

Christopher Akrill (of HeadSpaceDance) and Valentina Formenti (a 1995 graduate of LCDS—and who hasn't she danced for…), both wonderful performers, are a middle-aged couple in an ordinary flat with a large picture window skyline that could be New York. It all looks fictional—we are supposed to suspend our (dis)belief. It’s a shaggy dog tale. “You may or may not see the tortoise”.

The folkloric metaphor or mythology (rebirth, renewal?) of the white hare has several possible connotations. We have to work that out for ourselves. And the tortoise is supposed to be blessed with longevity… ‘Elixir’ as understood by Ben Duke. And families and their biblical dramas, stories that repeat.

Devised by the company—I prefer their dancing to their playacting—White Hare hops down side alleys, and there is talk of self-immolation. The car won’t start—because she has emptied the petrol tank into a can. Here it is. Why is she doing this… anxiety and fear? I don't believe one word of it.

Chance and hubris, perception and the mind playing games, as is Duke. The car in the illusory video film turns out to be a toy car when the giant tortoise lumbers into view chasing a strawberry. Is this why the woman is dressed as one—or is it to signify she is pregnant—yes, time veers all over the place.

It is circular, as is this programme, if one thinks about it. Fascinated by the tortoise eating its prize, I almost forget to watch the couple below, and I should because they are excellent. We do not go weary into the night, but it is enough. Follow that strawberry seems to be the message.

Reviewer: Vera Liber

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