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“Angled Eye” WatkinsDance – Bernie Grant Arts Centre, London

Reviewer: Chantal Guevara

[rating:1.5]

There’s a growing movement which encourages dancers to explore their choreographic interests – eg Rambert Dance Company, Hofesh Shechter Dance Company and Royal Ballet’s dedicated (and funded) seasons, or even smaller dance companies such as Diciembre Dance Group and AD Dance Company which encourage other company members to try their hand at choreographing works for the company. As seen with the recent showcase of choreography from Hofesh Shechter Dance Company’s dancers, if the dancers are used to dancing in a particularly stylised manner, then their own work will be a variation of that style. There’s also the risk that they might not be that good at choreography – which isn’t normally too much of an issue in these circumstances, and anyway, you can’t expect everyone to be good at everything.

The programme for Angled Eye features five works created by Anna Watkins of Tavaziva Dance: a very remarkable achievement, especially considering that she only founded WatkinsDance last year, and that her lengthy bio makes little mention of her choreographic background. It’s unusual to see a company so focussed on quantity, not to mention length of works, especially compared with the likes of Pair Dance (who Anna has danced with) and Hofesh Shechter, who nurture pieces over several years before creating any more.

The lineup for Angled Eye started with an opening work by Watkins performed by Rambert Dance Company’s youth company Quicksilver and an excerpt from a work by AD Dance Company – the only non-Watkins work of the evening – followed by four pieces by WatkinsDance.

The first of the four WatkinsDance pieces, Broken Silence, served as a potted summary of Watkins’s choreographic ideas in the opening minutes, which were then repeated and recycled throughout the rest of the evening. Broken Silence was about “powerful female dancers”, and it was indeed performed by intense-looking women; the opening sequences used a mixture of high-speed movement and slow full-body undulations, punctuated with satisfying kicks, and much reliance on repetition. While it’s refreshing to see a piece adhere to its programme notes, Broken Silence was a little too literal in places: the dancers covered their mouths with their hands to indicate being silenced, while the audience saw rather more of the dancers’ crotches than they might have liked, thanks to the “erotic” aspects of the choreography.

Inseparable was a duet with interesting dynamics, the male dancer ranging from disinterested to instigating much of the movement, while the female dancer shifted between needy and aggressive and back again.

Domination was a solo performed by Jessica Hall, which seemed to have slightly more diverse choreography than the preceding pieces, with more hyperextended movements and a significant amount of kneeling-based movement. Similar to her rôle in Broken Silence, Hall glared at the audience challengingly, reminding us of what a fierce dominant female she is, slicing the air in case we’re in doubt. Unfortunately, the use of repetition gave the impression of trying to extend the piece beyond its natural length, without sufficient ideas to fill the additional length.

If the previous works suffered from insufficient ideas, Forget-Me-Not more than made up for that, with an excess of ideas but a shortfall of cohesion.

Forget-Me-Not was was recently performed at Rich Mix as part of a double-bill with (threads), and is Watkins’ tribute to her mother who died when she was 13. It’s certainly not what you’d expect from a tribute or dedication, and if not for the voiceover at the start and end, it would be all too easy to forget.

In Forget-Me-Not, Watkins uses two distinct choreographic styles and shifts between the two throughout the piece, either using smaller, more controlled movements, almost lyrical in style, or Watkins’ physically dynamic style. When performing in the latter style, the dancers appear to revisit sections of the preceding pieces, and again, there’s a feeling of the piece being dragged out unnecessarily.

It’s extremely ambitious and audacious to programme so many of one’s works in one show, and certainly few companies would dare to do the same: in fact the last quintuple-bill I can recall seeing was Dutch National Ballet’s celebration of Hans van Manen. And in no way can Anna Watkins be compared with van Manen.

The downside of such a programme is that while each work would have more impact on its own, as part of such a full programme, each piece lessens the impact of the subsequent works, resulting in an anticlimatic ending. Watkins certainly redefines abstraction, relying on seemingly unconnected sequences with some recurring movement being the only thing tying them together. Also, given the intensity of Watkins’ choreographic style, there’s no room for uncertainty or lack of synchronisation, and there was a little too much of both from the dancers.

There are two main issues here: firstly, the focus on output has had a negative impact on the quality and definition of the work, and time and energy would have been better spent on creating fewer shorter pieces, which in turn would help Watkins develop a clearer choreographic voice. The second issue is that until she does, she will find it hard to attract an audience outside of family and friends, as a showcase of five unedited works by a new choreographer can only be described as one thing: a vanity project.

Photo: James Rowbowtham

Runs until 4 July

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