Daily Telegraph - February 26, 2002

Music and movement magically married
Ismene Brown reviews the Henri Oguike Dance Company, touring

YOU can go to the theatre for months, getting pleasure but without quite having that frisson of excitement that marks out the best evenings of your dance-going life. And then you find it in a tiny school theatre under the A40 flyover in London. Henri Oguike was an eye-catching dancer when he was with Richard Alston's company, his dark looks paired with a scything decisiveness about his way of moving.

But not until he launched his own company in 2000 did it become clear how rich his own imagination might be and, moreover, how musical. There are gifted movement-makers around, but the ear for great music is rarer, and even rarer the eye for what will look memorable as well as feel right. And here is Oguike, not just choosing Shostakovich and Bartok as his muses for his latest dances - two composers with whom you do not fool around - but insisting on live performance, of the Shostakovich at least. A man who thinks large, whatever the conditions, is someone interesting to know.

It was an exceptional experience to walk into the Studio Theatre of Paddington's North Westminster Community School, which has a stage about big enough to park four cars, and suddenly be greeted by a string quartet and then six ferociously leaping dancers, only a foot away. Front Line is a most fearsome dance, as it should be to Shostakovich's Ninth String Quartet. The dancers wear classy black costumes (by Elizabeth Baker) and fierce expressions, clenching fists, slapping each other's bodies, making sudden jumps with slashing feet, and keeping a stamping rhythm going with their bare feet like a drum-roll announcing the end of time.

Shostakovich's ability to write music of thudding anxiety and motionless despair, played by the very talented young ConTempo 4tet, makes strong pictures that choreographers should fear to intrude on. But Oguike has visions so intricately engaged with the music that this dance feels far bigger than its 18-minute length would suggest. I was lost in admiration when he turned a four-part fugue in the music into a six-part fugue in the dance. Despite his relative inexperience, Oguike appears to have an instinctive intellectual mastery of music and stage, and his dancers are a treat.

If anything, In Broken Tendrils is even more frightening. Bartok's 2nd violin concerto (taped) spins a sweet, disturbing melody over dark currents. Three men have an uneasy relationship with each other and a woman who appears and disappears like a dream-vision. Guy Hoare's flickering lights manipulate senses, theirs and ours. A black-sheathed creature slithers around on her stomach. The men try to avoid this horror and catch the beautiful vision.

One's shivers are calmed by the jolly Ile Aye - or would be if it were not that even this energetic romp to Brazilian popular songs made last year has a sudden dark episode in which the singing stops and so do the dancers' smiles, leaving one man dancing on his own before a line of chilly eyes. Catch up with Oguike no matter how remote or small the theatre.


- Telegraph Group Ltd 2003

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