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Ascendance Rep

Chaps: ‘Social Disease’, ‘The Up and Down People’, ‘Habitual Welders’

October 2006
Leeds, Yorkshire Dance Centre

by Ian Palmer



© Chris Sands

'Social Disease' reviews

'Up and Down People' reviews

'Habitual Welders' reviews

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Ascendance Rep, a small Northern based contemporary dance company has grown up considerably since its inception back in 1999. Then, as now, its Founder Artistic Director was Rachel Wesson (whose beautiful Soleil some may recall seeing at The Place a few years ago) who brought with her a determination to create audiences out of local communities by presenting them with contemporary dance in unconventional spaces – shopping centres, book shops, galleries – introducing them to, and educating them in its language, its style, its boldness. I recall discovering the company quite by chance whilst wandering through Borders Books one day and being drawn to them, by their freshness, their vitality. I was not alone. Since then, the company has gained important funding from the Arts Council and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and on the back of this it has launched its most ambitious tour to date. All praise, therefore, to Rachel Wesson for her inspired leadership, her artistic vision and her guts for programming three intelligent, challenging and ultimately (in their own individual ways) pleasing works.

We begin with a work from local choreographer, Gary Clarke, his Social Disease, an exploration of Andy Warhol, his obsession with celebrity, its transition from self-worth to self loathing, its truths, its falsehoods, its birth its death. Just as Warhol’s vision of art arises from the ordinary (the dancers line up twenty boxes of Kellogg’s Cornflakes, as reminder of his repetitive collages) so too does his vision of celebrity. As the dancers, the height of Warhol’s cool, slink to the soundtrack of Velvet Underground, capturing themselves in photographic snap-shots, absorbing themselves in images of self-worship (kissing, boot-licking), giving in to the trappings of hedonism (substance sniffing), we see the fifteen minutes (of course) ticking, the disease spreading, until it explodes with the sound of a gun-shot, the final vision of celebrity’s self-destruction and its ultimate glorification in death.

In Tom Roden’s witty The Up and Down People, we see a manifestation of the physical and mental states of “being up” and “being down”. Dance is focused around the vertical - the four dancers jump up like Jack-in-the-Boxes to the plucked guitar of Michael Gallasso’s score, (movement is spiky, effervescent) before collapsing into lyricism and stillness. They address the audience, “You’re only allowed to look at me. I’m up!” and relate stories of their lives, playing games with thoughts and motion, where “up” becomes “down” and “down” becomes “up”. It is a gentle work, rather like a soft breeze blowing across the stage, fresh in it readiness, eager in its humour, balanced in its texture.
 


Jan de Schynkel’s Habitual Welders
© Chris Sands


The balance of texture is key to Jan de Schynkel’s Habitual Welders, an engaging piece, sensitive in its response to the musical scores (a medley of John Dowland, Perotin and contemporary composers) and their ambiguities. Some may remember de Schynkel as a splendid dancer with Rambert and his experience in the international arena clearly reveals itself in what is the most theatrically secure of the works presented, intriguing in its use of light and space. The dance elapses by as a series of relationships between dancers - of duets, of ensembles (dancers welded together – collecting together, twisting around one another) - and movement seems to be manipulated from within, each dancer drawing the other around a nucleus of abstraction, creating a whole, organic in its feel until violent eruptions of light burst into spasms of movement and the dance shatters only to be welded again.

The four dancers who form the company - Barbara Schmid, Marie Hallager Anderson, Paul Wilkinson and Anna Bjerre Larsen, together with the company’s Education Co-ordinator, Charis Osbourne – dance here with real integrity, with clarity of movement and a real belief in their art. But belief in the art of dance seems to me integral to Rachel Wesson’s vision for her company and as it embarks on its tour we can only wish them success.


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