February 01, 2003

Henri Oguike
By Donald Hutera
South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell
HENRI OGUIKE is the most overtly musical of the current crop of gifted young British choreographers. His response to a score is practically visceral, as was evident during the launch of his company’s spring tour in Bracknell.

Front Line, premiered last year, is a perfect example of how Oguike digs into the fabric of a composition, using it for an exploration of rhythm that his six thrillingly willing dancers then claim as their own. This jolting, unpredictable piece reaches so far inside Shostakovich’s 9th Quartet in E Flat, played live by the Pavão Quartet, that the drama seems to boiling up from inside their skins.

Adopting fighting stances or falling and rolling on to the floor, their put-up-your-dukes fists are contrasted with desperately fibrillating hands.

The movement throughout is sharp, angular and fiercely sprung. The music is further augmented by the stamping of the dancers’ bare feet and the hard slap of flesh on flesh.

Bracknell hosted two world premieres, the more significant based on a pre-recording of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. Sarah Storer embodied the Queen of Carthage and the hate-filled Sorceress who sabotages her happiness. Nuno Silva was cast as her Aeneas, while Nuno Campos and Charlotte Eatock made a mark in supporting parts.

Audiences unfamiliar with Purcell may have to work harder to grasp narrative nuances, but this chamber piece grows in stature as you watch. Oguike has conceived it with economy and grandeur, even if midway he wittily juxtaposes Purcell’s celestial vocals with bestial, bandy-legged steps and vulgar pelvic grinds.

The dance builds to a daringly long, seemingly static close imbued with sorrow. I won’t forget the sight of Campos gently nudging Dido’s corpse with his head. Elizabeth Baker’s costumes have a handsome classical chic, while Guy Hoare’s gilt-edged lighting is masterly.

Bracknell’s other premiere was Finale, a deceptively casual, feel-good ensemble piece cued to jaunty music by the contemporary French composer René Aubry. It’s low on content but highly agree-able, although the dancers didn’t quite have the measure of it on opening night.

Oguike himself danced the short solo FPS (Frames Per Second), reworked since its premiere last May and set to a Bill Evans piece. Ranging round the stage with a panther’s grace, avoiding the shifting geometry of light at the centre, Oguike could be some beautiful wild animal observed at a watering hole.

© - 2003 Donald Hutera - The Times Newspapers Ltd


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