Henri Oguike, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Friday 19 May 2006
Live music can lift dancing, opening it out. From the earliest days of his company, now seven years old, Henri Oguike brought in musicians whenever he could afford them. This show, a collaboration between Oguike's company and the Britten Sinfonia, offered two London premieres and some grandly expansive dancing.
Oguike's dancers respond to the musicians. I've never seen them show such attack and assured phrasing. Backs and feet are cleanly stretched, limbs swung boldly. The movement texture can be as lush as the string playing.
Oguike's setting of Tippett's Concerto for Double String Orchestra is a pastoral celebration. His nine dancers, in white and green, group themselves in chain dances, cutting into solos and duets, each with a hand clasping the next person's elbow. They half-crouch, knees bent, hips swung; they often stop in position, making a background for other dances.
In lines and small groups, his dancers shuffle and dip, shoulders swinging. For a moment, the women look like flappers, with a hint of 1920-30s social dance: Tippett's score is a 20th-century pastoral. Music may be central to Oguike, but he sometimes cuts against his scores. I love many of the steps in this Tippett, but they don't always tell me about the music.
Oguike strains for some effects. In the Tippett, the cast leave the stage to walk through the audience; there are a few too many bright smiles, some patterns that lose impetus. But this programme shows a choreographer making dances of real ease and freedom.
Tiger Dancing, to a score commissioned from Steve Martland, starts with the poem by William Blake, but creates a very different mood. The music is full of plucked strings and springy lines: lively rather than fierce, with no fearful symmetries. Oguike gives his dancers sinuous, feline movements, but nothing cutesy; when they drop to hands and knees, they hold their arms spread wide in stark angles.
The evening opened with the Britten Sinfonia in Edward Gregson's Stepping Out, the strings cutting across each other in different phrases, the playing juicy and warm. The first danced piece was Front Line, Oguike's vivid setting of a Shostakovich string quartet. The concert showed how broad Oguike's appeal is: this South Bank audience ranged from classical music specialists to cheering teenagers.
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