This is a guest post by Meredith Nadler.
In commemoration of the maverick and unforgettable performing artist, Nigel Charnock.
The international dance world is greatly saddened by the loss of one of its most gifted and original artists as well as its most maverick and controversial performers with the untimely death of choreographer, dancer and director, Nigel Charnock. In 1986, together with Lloyd Newson, he founded the DV8 Physical Theater whose works over the next 25 years would revolutionize what we thought of as dance and theater. His pieces, especially his solos, deeply touched, inspired and often outraged audiences. The Arts Council of England hailed him as “a national treasure” while he was branded by London Metro newspaper as the “bad boy of physical theater.” In 2011 he came to Israel at the invitation of dancer Talia Paz and the Machol Shalem Production House of Jerusalem to create 2 new works here in Israel, a duet and group piece. In mid-June, after completing the duet and back in the UK hard at work on his project 10 Men, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. On August 1st at St. Christopher’s Hospice in South London, Nigel Charnock lost his battle with the disease at the age of 52.
As a tribute to this great man, on August 22nd the Suzanne Dellal Centre and BI-Arts of the British Council presented Nigel Charnock’s final piece, Haunted by the Future, completed only months before his death. This posthumous premiere of his last new work left no one unmoved as it ran, and at times literally through the audience, the gamut of emotions – from tenderness to sheer rage. “Love versus Sex and Art versus Life” describes well this duet combining dance, theater and comedy and that brought the audience face to face with a couple at war, and yes – sometimes even in love. Michael Winter and Talia Paz, two seasoned and exceptional performers, tested to the limit their desires, needs and the illusions they have about being a couple. Love’s pitfalls and man’s vulnerability and egoism were narrated to hilarious effect through a succinct narration of Pop music favorites, from Motown classics like the 1964 Supremes’ “Baby Love” right through an array of anthems from the 80’s and 90’s. Charnock’s Haunted… is in fact a high strung masterpiece, where the sinews of the pair’s relationship are pulled taut and not a moment goes by that extremes of brutality and fragility towards each other aren’t vying for dominance. The two repeatedly withdrew to opposite sides of the stage, where chairs, water bottles and towels awaited them, as if in a boxing match, only to begin sparring again after they had regained a semblance of composure and the courage to continue the fight. Michael Winter, with his verbal virtuosity and biting, comic flair, had the audience reeling as he deflowered the topical assumptions of a man’s role, duties and even his own virility. Modern day coupledom, that is in this piece meaning the expectations, ambitions and animosity that the opposite sex has in respect to one another, is put on display with a frankness and an absurdity that both enthralled and disquieted us.
The duet Haunted by the Future was followed by a special screening of Charnock’s One Dixon Road, an improvisational solo performed in Jerusalem last year in which Jerusalem itself is caught in brutal clarity by video artists Sascha Engel and Youval Landsberg. The video reveals in stark relief the volatile panorama of a city submersed in the tension of its religious and sectarian polarities. Fleeting glimpses of the city awash in saturated colors frame for the viewer a most extraordinary landscape and people. Images known around the world are interspersed with everyday scenes that are compelling in both their ritualistic fever and urban mundaneness. True to form, Charnock’s solo relates this reality in a tour de force of spoken word and dance, served up in a satiric manner of a man who declares emphatically that there is no God. Religion, framed by him as a bamboozle, a sham, no more than a car salesman pitch aimed to the susceptible, is put on display as a forgery of love and faith. In his trademark improvisational style, he segues at breakneck speed from the holy, to the personal, to a comical dissection of the most familiar elements of dance, theater, cabaret and stardom.
The evening’s program also included two more duets by Israeli choreographers. Force Majeure, choreographed by Ofra Idel and performed by herself and Danielle Shoufra, tantalizes the audience with a stirring intimacy in which the two women play out a relationship characterized by teasing, compassion and violence. Both possessing powerful presences, they physically test one another to the point of frequent discomfort as they struggle with each other along a journey of separations, reunions and final farewells. Danielle Shoufra’s quest for self control, her belabored breathing, convulsions and repeated need for resuscitation, mark this piece with a lingering note of death and grief. With a rough and visceral movement language, the two grapple with each other and some unforeseen doom. Accompanying music is an eclectic mix which includes Nick Cave, Kylie Minogue and the Tarantella punctuated by a crystal clear soundscape of rattling chains and a brittle laughter that teeters between hysteria and mockery. Its rawness seems to push the performers to extremes and sometimes even over the edge, in moments that invoke confessions and narrowly aborted suicidal acts. This piece is dedicated to the memory of Tamir Natan, childhood friend of the choreographer, who died in a road accident in La Paz, Bolivia when she was just 21. Further performances of this work will be in Tanzania at the Visa2Dance Festival in October and at the Akko Dance Center later this year. A short film by Betina Fainstein and Lior Har Lev about this piece will be presented as part of a TV series on Jerusalem artists for Channel 8.
The other Israeli work was Nadar Rosano’s Off-line, in which Nadar Rosano and Adi Wineberg dance a duet that resembles a duel of sorts between man and woman, with an almost constant drumming pace set by the two sidestepping in synchronized fashion throughout much of the piece. A series of choreographic recapitulations of well defined movement phrases emphasizes a routine which grows tenser with each repetition. Control and a consuming drive to maintain it denotes an irreparable imbalance of power between the two dancers, with Adi Wineberg seeking flight and freedom with swift, deft movements but resolved to return and hold her own against her male counterpart. Music by Japanese ambient electronic artists Chichei Hatakeyama and Kouhei Matsungama serves as a backdrop of continuity which emphasizes the restlessness of their power struggle. The hypnotic melodies and insistent rhythms that permeate the piece act as an atmospheric anchor, pinning down one under the dominance of the other. This piece can next be seen on September 29-30 in Nicosia, Cypress and in March of next year at the Zurich Tanzhaus.
Meredith Nadler is a Berlin based writer, critic, artist and choreographer. For more about her work, see YouTube videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6I_4QBNd0I and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TyFRyfpGbY8