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Oguike has the most eclectic and inquisitive musicality

of any choreographer I can think of in the UK

Arts Desk

Henri Oguike & OAE, Queen Elizabeth Hall

Dance and music take hands with two infectiously musical choreographers

by Ismene Brown Sunday, 10 February 2013


Music is the food of dance - music as either an emotional language to speak back to, or an environment to set a mood or find associations in. The former is highly demanding, and Henri Oguike and Richard Alston are two who are clinging to the wreckage of British contemporary dance as art, not theatre. To see them on consecutive nights is to be reminded how ambitiously contemporary dance can aim, when the imagination reaches with a limited body language to try to link into a parallel world of utterly different definitions.

I try to think what good dance feels like to watch - and I say, “feels like”, because good dance, however abstract, has a way of making your body wriggle, it catches your physical heartbeat, it sometimes jolts you in the brain, or makes the tears start up behind the eyes. But deep down, even if it is divorced from music (like Merce Cunningham or Lucinda Childs, say) good dance gets under your skin because an individual over there on the stage has hooked into your nervous system.

But it’s often by tortuous means that a choreographer gets there. Take Henri Oguike, who, praise be, is back in business despite the crass axing of his Arts Council grant last year. He hooked up this weekend with the lively Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at the Southbank Centre for a dual-arts staging of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, in which his six dancers took over the front stage while a small clump of the OAE sat behind, and solo violinist Kati Debretzeni wandered between the two areas.

It’s a bit awkward, more like a lecture presentation than a union, but the ingredients of the debate are quality. The sound of the OAE band is wiry and rustic, old in an exciting way with the full band together and the unusual middle-pinning by the theorbo, an eyecatchingly long-necked early lute strumming as vigorously as the strings are scrubbing.

The solo violin is another matter - I can’t enjoy the scratchy, unwell-tempered tuning of Debretzeni’s baroque violin, it grates like nails on a blackboard. Nor do I quite believe that Vivaldi’s melodious ears would have been delighted by this low-calorie string sound. He lived during the golden period for violin-making - instruments were pouring out of the Stradivarius, Guarneri and Amati workshops that, even before modern adjustments, were surely being explored for their juice and poignancy of timbre.

Oguike has the most eclectic and inquisitive musicality of any choreographer I can think of in the UK

However, Oguike (who has the most eclectic and inquisitive musicality of any choreographer I can think of in the UK) took the skimpy sound as a bridge into an earthy folksiness that slapped imaginary boots and aprons on these dancers over their functional vests and pants.

The individuality of this half-Welsh, half-Nigerian choreographer is that, while you see the classical lyricism of the “British contemporary” in him (from his Richard Alston training), there’s a distinctive thump, pulse and bottom-waggling swagger in the bold way his choreography seizes the whole stage space, even when not all the dancers are surrendering fully.

You unconsciously breathe more deeply, you smile with sense of well-being, when a line of Oguike dancers drive over the stage defiantly smacking their bare feet on the ground, or throw clenched fists exultantly over their heads. You could imagine the beautiful Sunbee Han as the dance’s more sensuous equivalent to the violin soloist, with her airy fingers, arching body and luxuriantly splayed toes.


The Seasons, Henri Oguike, Queen Elizabeth Hall

Mark Monahan gives three cheers for Oguike and his sextet of dancers for their performance of The Seasons at Queen Elizabeth Hall.

By Mark Monahan 11 Feb 2013

Stravinsky once said that he always understood his own creations better once George Balanchine had set steps to them. A gargantuan compliment, given who was talking, this also captured one of choreography’s most common and fundamental aims: to shed new light on existing or old music.

Contemporary dancer-turned-dance-maker Henri Oguike’s new collaboration with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, which premiered at the Queen Elizabeth Hall last Friday, is a bold attempt to do precisely that. Vivaldi’s four concertos from the 1720s are as marvellous as they were pioneering, but also nothing if not over-familiar.

Now, there are plenty of elements in Oguike’s 50-minute piece, for six plainly dressed dancers, that come across as “seasonal”. But there are at least as many passages in which Oguike seems to have stripped the Vivaldi of its entire original “programme” and re-examined it as pure music. In other words, the swings between hot and cold in V4: The Seasons are at least as emotional as they are meteorological.

And what a terrific piece of work it is. We have not seen nearly enough of Oguike since the Arts Council idiotically pulled the plug on his funding a year or so ago, but the protean Welshman’s muse is here shining as brightly, as eclectically and above all as musically as ever.

Take Autumn. This begins as a celebratory group affair, with the odd stance that might even have been borrowed from the world of surfing — whimsical, but it works. A subsequent tortured solo for Sunbee Han, full of deep bends of the torso and immensely expressive use of the arms, gives way to a ravishingly intense duet that, in turn, cedes to an exuberant third movement of lovely big, high, round, rustic kicks and swooping runs.

The opening of Spring is like Gangnam Style’s grown-up and more exultant cousin; Summer begins with the OAE’s lead violinist Kati Debretzeni joining a couple on stage, scrutinising them so closely that it’s as if it is she who is responding to them. The famously melodic ice scene from Winter is reimagined as a hypnotically still solo, full of impossible-looking angling of the legs, with Teerachai Thobumrung coming across as some elegant, unspecified creature coolly taking in its (perhaps frozen) world.

Three cheers for Oguike, and also for his sextet of performers, some stronger than others but all apparently as intoxicated as the sold-out QEH both by his choreographic virtuosity and by the OAE’s exhilarating musicianship. Now, could some smart, rich, dance-loving person or institution out there please give this supremely talented fellow a financial leg up? It would be money well spent.


Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Oguike Dance – review

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London


Sanjoy Roy 

The Guardian, Monday 11 February 2013 18.20 GMT

Vivaldi's Four Seasons is so well and widely known you would think it impossible to make it sound fresh and novel. But V4: The Seasons, a terrific joint venture by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Oguike Dance, does just that. It is the collision of old and new that makes the performance such a blast. The period instruments of the OAE bring an attack and texture very different from the blended sound of the modern orchestra, while Henri Oguike's contemporary choreography, eschewing any trace of deference or decoration, cuts straight to the music's beating heart.

Vivaldi wrote motifs to illustrate specific scenes – birdsong, storms, hunting – and shaped them into larger musical constructions; the resulting "contest between harmony and invention", as he put it, gives the music its impetus. Oguike does something similar with his six dancers (superb, with SunBee Han as the magnetic standout). He pins the choreography to the musical movements, his construction more compositional than narrative. The dancing is crammed with dynamic imagery: a froggy squat opens the piece; flapping hands variously suggest fluttering wings, shaking leaves or a freezing wind. There are perilous leans, with arms spiralling like tendrils; weary wanderings, punches, heaving throws, strides that look a mile wide. The action is also dense with human drive and desire: rutty dancehall thrusts, couples twining and parting, intimations of sex as the women lie heavily atop their men, all force spent.

An almost metaphysical vision begins to emerge: in life's abundance there is profusion, but also pattern. This accords completely with the idea of the seasons, and indeed with Vivaldi's score. And the music gets physical, too. Violinist and musical director Kati Debretzeni regularly enters the stage, and we witness a melancholy melody separate a couple, or a jabbing cadenza galvanise a body's bones, and in the final scene she become the axis of action: the dancers run rings around her. Vivaldi vivified.



Henri Oguike & Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment – Four Seasons – London


By Graham Watts on February 14, 2013

London, Queen Elizabeth Hall
8 February 2013

If music be the food of love, then it is surely the air and water of dance.   Music survives well enough without visual stimuli but dance can get along for only so far without its auditory entourage: one might argue that even 4’33” is a tad too long (and, yes, I know that John Cage didn’t compose his opus to ambient sound specifically for the purposes of dance but I’m not going to let an unhelpful little fact spoil my point)!

Whenever music accompanies dance – perhaps excepting the Mariinsky Theatre where Maestro Gergiev reigns supreme – it is generally the poor relation.   Conductors are asked to gauge their tempii to the ballerina’s requirements and the orchestra generally sits down below the stage (in a “pit”, if you don’t mind) unseen by most of the audience.  Here, for once, the tables are turned.  True, all but one member of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment occupies a raised platform at the rear of the stage, but even though the six excellent dancers take over the foreground they are very much “second fiddle” in this rearrangement of the music and movement dynamic.  By the way, there is no doubting that the first fiddle belongs to the Orchestra’s Director and Lead Violinist, Kati Debrentzeni, who wanders occasionally through the dancers as if Vivaldi’s very own spectral emissary.

This orchestral performance of Vivaldi’s ubiquitous description of a year in the life of the countryside had the added twist of Henri Oguike’s choreography bringing Vivaldi’s musical mimicry of nature into kinetic form.  This remarkable young man from West Glamorgan (part Welsh and part Nigerian) already has a strong track record in Baroque choreography and must have been a shoe-in choice to work with the OAE.  And together they delivered a unique experience, taking familiar music played uncaringly in elevators and shopping malls the world over and intensifying Vivaldi’s onomatopoeic references into a holistic, three-dimensional form.  Thus, Oguike interprets the descriptive phrases of spring’s awakening with “the singing of birds”; the soft breezes of summer with its solitary peasant’s lament leading into the “presto” pace of the thunderstorm; the frivolities of autumn’s drunken peasantry and the bloody hunt; and finally the “chattering teeth” frozen by the fearsome North Wind of winter.  It’s all there, in recognisable, visual cues that accentuate the suggestiveness of Vivaldi’s musical references.  There are harmonious fragments of tranquillity to indicate both the restfulness of soft breezes and the fatigue of a day in the summer sun and many repeated motifs (including fluttering hands, thrusting crotches and deep pliés) to represent the agitated passion of both climatic and climaxing forces.  Oguike animates Vivaldi’s hints of seasonal characteristics from gale-force winds to steamy sex.  It was so good that the performers did it all twice in one night. I even thought about stowing away to catch the reprise!

Oguike’s dance making has always tended towards the literal in terms of each movement possessing intent.  At one extreme it can be extraordinarily poetic (as in his earlier Baroque-influenced works such as White Space – to Scarlatti’s keyboard work – and his two previous attempts at choreographing to Vivaldi in Little Red and How I Look); and at the other it can be a ferment of visceral power. This is, after all, the choreographer who gave us Tiger Dancing and meant it.

This remarkable “inside-out” collaboration of orchestra and dance ensemble – which incidentally takes place on a bare stage shorn of any other design save for the simplest of dancewear – succeeded in overhauling one of the most popular pieces of classical music by weaving remarkable new textures into Vivaldi’s violin concertos.   It was a highly specialised renovation of a much-loved and well-worn composition which further confirms Oguike as the “go-to” Baroque – if not the “Go for Barocco” – choreographer of the modern age.


Seen and Heard International

Since 1999 MusicWeb International's Concert, Opera and Ballet Reviews

Fresh Life Breathed into Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

Colin Clarke February 11, 2013


This was a quite remarkable event – as the booklet put it a marriage of the muses Polyhymnia and Terpsichore (referring presumably to the sonnets that accompany the concertos, and the choreography, and missing out Euterpe the muse of music). Neither was this a simple question of static musicians meeting mobile, twisty dancers: the violin soloist, Kati Debretzeni, was sometimes found in the main body of the stage, interacting with the dancers. The muses met, exchanged ideas, each infused and enriched by the other.

It was, of course, a short concert (there were two such, one at 630pm – the one I attended – and another at 8.30pm). Yet so much was packed densely into the short space of time (around forty minutes) that one emerged enriched, energised and not one jot short-changed. The fusion of period performance and contemporary dance provided the necessary frisson for an active reframing of Vivaldi’s familiar masterpiece on the part of the audience. The triumph here was that neither music nor dance gained supremacy, nor indeed did they seem to vie for it – the symbiotic relationship between what we saw and what we heard was the key to the success here. The occasional choreographed stomping of dancers (even Debretzeni got into this action) added a primal edge to a performance already characterised by its very vitality.

The opening ‘Spring’ concerto was bright (the authentic approach heightening this aspect of the score); the concertante dialogue between Debretzeni and several of her violin colleagues early on was breathtakingly fresh. Matching this was the exuberance of the dance. Tracing stories (or proto-narratives) was part of the magic – were the dance couples having relationship problems? No problem matching the pas de deux of Spring’s Largo. Here, Debretzeni’s finely-spun long cantabile line accompanied, then joined, the love-entwined couple on stage to add a third member (here was the first occasion on which she moved from the musicians’ platform at the back of the auditorium to the front of the stage).

The gentleness of the Zephyr’s breeze infused ‘Summer’ – a reference to the sonnets that accompanied these concertos, poetry possibly by Vivaldi himself. When the music energised, it reminded us that the basis of this performance was vitality. Rhythms from the OAE were consistently well sprung throughout the evening, and there was real grit to the more outgoing gestures. The way the cascading, rapidly descending scales in the Presto finale each initiated a dancer’s movement was remarkably effective.

And so to ‘Autumn’, with its first movement taken at a remarkably brisk pace. The six dancers’ response was angular, presumably a response to the bucolic, bumpkin dancing to which the accompanying sonnet refers. The anguished dance solo that began this concerto’s central, frozen Adagio molto was one of the most memorable moments of the evening. The finale was the first occasion on which the dancers overtook the musicians in visceral terms – there seemed to be a tepid element. Surprising, as this is one of the most famous movements from the cycle.

Perhaps they had their minds on the futuristic shards of sound that opened ‘Winter’, here appearing more modern than this writer has previously experienced. The soundscape, soon enlivened with more stomping, seemed somehow to link to that of the Russian winter that breaks so memorably into Spring and inspired Stravinsky’s Rite. Dancers shiver in the cold.

As realisations of programme music go, this was astonishing. Never simply on the surface – despite direct links between music, poetry and gesture – this choreography worked on multiple levels to complement and illuminate Vivaldi’s quartet of concertos. Readers can get an idea of what this was like from this video. The musical performance, presumably a conflated one from the various performances, is earmarked for a release on the OAE label. Would it be too much to hope for a DVD? That, surely, would be ideal.



Heftiges Rütteln, ekstatische Übungen

Von: Sabine Rother 

Letzte Aktualisierung: 25. Februar 2013, 10:37 Uhr



Tanzkunst, die das Publikum am Haken hat: die Henri Oguike Dance Company beim Schrittmacher-Festival. Foto: Andreas Herrmann


Große Erwartungen schwingen mit in der imponierenden Architektur der Industriehalle Stahlbau Strang beim 18. Schrittmacher-Tanzfestival in Aachen. Mystisch leuchten der gewaltige Transporthaken an der Decke und die geöffnete Kanzel, die jeden Moment den Menschen zu erwartet scheint, der diesen Haken rangieren kann.


Die Aachener Veranstaltungen des Festivals sind allesamt ausverkauft. Manchmal jedoch werden vereinzelt reservierte Karten zurückgegeben.

Der nächste Termin: Am Samstag und Sonntag, 2. und 3. März, zeigen Sébastien Ramirez und Honji Wang ihr Programm „Monchichi“.

Infos im Internet:

Schon weit über eine Stunde vor Einlass kommen die ersten Tanzbegeisterten und treffen sich an den mit Windlichten schummrig beleuchteten Tischen.

Wer den Raum durch die schmale Tür betritt, taucht ab. Orangefarbenes Licht und rot glühende Heizelemente ergänzen sich in der Wirkung. „Wir sind jetzt bereits glücklich”, sagt Festivalleiter Rick Takvorian. „Die Eröffnung bei unseren niederländischen Partnern im Theater Heerlen hatte 1000 Besucher. Viele kamen auch aus Deutschland, es war sehr festlich.” Mit Het Nationale Ballet und Arbeiten des russisch-amerikanischen Choreographen George Blanchine konnten Takvorian und Bas Schoonderwoerd, Direktor des Parkstad Limburg Theaters, gleich doppelt punkten.

Ästhetisch gekonnt

In Aachen prägt die von Henri Oguike 1999 gegründete Londoner Dance Company den Schrittmacher-Auftakt. Der nigerianisch-walisische Künstler (Gründungsmitglied der Richard Alston Dance Company/Schrittmacher 2012), der die aktive Tanzkarriere nach einem Achillessehnenriss beenden musste, hat seine am Swansea College erworbenen Befähigungen in den Bereichen Musik, Drama und Tanz seiner neuen Berufung zugrunde gelegt. In Aachen zeigt er drei eigene Choreographien. Die große Leinwand ist im Einsatz, wenn bei „White Space” die mathematisch klar strukturierte Musik von Alessandro Scarlatti zu schwarz-bunten Mondrian-Flächen und -Linien erklingt. Reizvoll und ästhetisch gekonnt – Tänzerinnen bieten in ersten Bildern abstrakte Posen. Aus dem Dunkel befreit sie nach und nach ein heller Streifen. Jetzt werden sie für einen Moment zu eleganten Silhouetten, die an die Vorspann-Bilder der frühen James Bond-Filme erinnern. Vergängliche Schönheit, eine magische Installation.

Der Rhythmus von Scarlattis Komposition, hart und heftig eingespielt, begleitet und bestimmt die folgenden Aktionen von Sunbee Han, Rhiannon Elena Morgan, Noora Keela, Edward Lloyd, Wayne Parsons und Teerachai Thobumrung. Doch meist bewegen sie sich in ihren höfisch anmutenden Kostümen in Alleingängen über die Bühne, lassen bei aller Professionalität jedoch häufig Leichtigkeit und Raffinesse vermissen. Dass auch Modern Dance aus der klassischen Tanzausbildung mit Hebungen, Sprüngen und hin und wieder etwas „Spitze” erwächst, möchte hier offensichtlich niemand zeigen. Zu dieser filigranen und reichen Musik des Barock würde es passen. Vogelgang und platschend aufgesetzte nackte Füße sowie das gelegentliche Zusammentreffen der Gruppe lassen eher an eine ambitionierte Sportstunde denken.

Wie gut sie doch tanzen können, wird in „New Duet 2012” sichtbar. Vivaldis „Stabat Mater” entwickelt sich im skulptural aufgebauten Pas de deux (Keela/Thobumrung) zu einer edlen, starken Verschmelzung von Gesang und der Körpersprache eines Paares auf der vergeblichen Suche nach dem Spiegel von Gefühlen und Sehnsüchten im Gegenüber.

Für den zweiten Teil des Abends hat die Company mit Antonio Vivaldis „Vier Jahreszeiten“ eine Uraufführung mitgebracht. Auch hier ist Oguike die starke Bodenhaftung seiner Tänzerinnen und Tänzer wichtig, ob ekstatische Bauchübungen (Frühlingsgefühle?) oder heftiges Händeschütteln und Rütteln im „Winter“. Auch hier wird wieder gestampft, läuft man mal zusammen, trifft sich aber nicht wirklich. In 45 Minuten dringt die Musik Vivaldis wie ein Rauschmittel in die Körper ein und bestimmt die Aktionen. Eine durchaus mutige Produktion.

Als Oguike den herzlichen Schlussapplaus des Aachener Publikums mit seiner Truppe entgegennimmt, tritt er in die Mitte der Tänzerinnen und Tänzer. Plötzlich sind sie wirklich „zusammen“.