Jasmin Vardimon Company
by David Mead
November 21, 2009 -- The Place, London
When is a celebratory retrospective not a retrospective? Perhaps when it is a piece called “Yesterday,” for this is a work that, while not exactly completely new, is more than a compilation of excerpts. For this look back that celebrates her company’s 10th anniversary, Israeli-born but British-based choreographer Jasmin Vardimon has taken a pair of scissors to her previous works “Justitia”, “Park”, “Lullaby”, “Tête”, “Lurelurelure” and “Ticklish,” and selected choice moments from them. With help from designer Guy Bar-Amotz, the duets, solos and imagery extracted have been interwoven with new material, video and animation. And quite cleverly it has been done too. Most of the joins are relatively seamless. You don’t realise you have jumped into another work until after it has happened.
Vardimon describes the work as “pumping new life into old memories,” and the resulting patchwork piece certainly gives an in-depth insight into the range of her choreography and the company’s trademark physicality and theatricality. Yet the nature of the work is also its major weakness. When it is good, it is very, very good. But, equally, there are sections that do not quite hit the mark, at least in this context. A little like a TV comedy sketch show, there is little overall coherence and, as a whole, the evening is rather hit and miss.
One of the most memorable images comes right at the beginning, as YunKrung Song balances on the feet of a man lying on his back, his legs at 90 degrees, singing and casting a fishing rod over the heads of the audience. She is framed by a slope of white strips that looks for all the world like the concrete and glass frontage of a New York City skyscraper. When these strips fall back to the vertical, they double as a projection screen and provide many options for entrances and exits. Before long, “Yesterday” explodes into highly synchronised, exciting, fast, crashing dance, full of acrobatic tumbling, rolling, and skimming across the floor. But despite the exciting physicality of the group dances, it is the more theatrical scenes featuring just one or two dancers that stick in the memory.
The work is full of references to illness, abuse, and love and loss, although whether these are personal memories or references to Vardimon’s experiences as a psychological interviewer in the Israeli National Service is unclear. Easiest on the eye is the very funny, yet increasingly violent pillow-fight between Luke Burrough’s doctor, lecturing us on disease control, and Mafalda Deville, who zips around the stage as an out of control virus. The doctor wins, but, at a more philosophical level, the scene does ask whether treating sickness can be seen as attacking the sick. A later humorous scene sees Burrough as a psychologist, this time discussing a patient’s symptoms in terms of a weather forecast.
Some sections are altogether darker. Some in the audience found a section in which a dancer draws on her own body with marker pen rather funny. As she is projected in close-up on the back screen though, I found it impossible to see it as anything other than a disturbing reference to self-harm.
When the sections fail though, they do so in style, such as featuring what appears to be a member of the National Front, waving his Cross of St George and bellowing worn-out political statements into a megaphone. In another, thankfully brief, section, Burroughs repeatedly puts on and takes off his jacket, to no effect whatsoever.
Despite the moments that missed the mark, “Yesterday” is entertaining, and is largely full of the sharp, incisive choreographic language that seems so characteristic of much Israeli dance. The dancers were excellent throughout and never held back for a moment. If “Yesterday” doesn’t make anyone unfamiliar with Vardimon’s work want to see more, I would be very surprised indeed.