January 31, 2004

Henri Oguike
By Donald Hutera
Wyvern, Swindon

HENRI OGUIKE, one of Britain’s classiest young choreographers, has an innate ability to strike the right balance between art and entertainment.

Small of scale but big in ambition, his company works miracles of quality despite often meagre resources. Its current UK tour stretches from Cardiff to Edinburgh to Tunbridge Wells before reaching London in late April.

Launched in Swindon last Wednesday, the strong, varied programme of dances carries Oguike’s signature. Yet each is endowed with a distinct personality.

Front Line, dating from 2001, is worthy of bravos. Set to Shostakovich’s urgent, brooding Ninth Quartet in E Flat, played live by the excellent Parvao Quartet, Oguike’s jazzy brute of a piece packs a punch.

This is dance with a spring in its step and a sting in the tail. Like a well-oiled machine, the six dancers stamp the floor or allow limbs to lick the air with a primitive, assaultive grace.

Oguike’s latest ensemble piece, White Space, a world premiere, lacks the same minatory excitement. But its light, skewering wit is in excellent contrast to the dark-souled, black-clad Shostakovich. Here the musical inspiration is Scarlatti. Dressed in tight whites and backed by a screen of clean-lined, Mondrian-style chambers that shrink or expand, the dancers are taut, gossipy fops always on display. No more so than in a string of short centre-stage solos that make them seem like rag dolls with knives. Oguike indulges these self-involved sensualists’ hip-thrusting affectations. The touch of camp in their vigorously mincing posturings befits the musical filigree. It may not deepen, but this courtly yet clubby dance has attitude to spare.

F.P.S. (Frames per Second) Parts 1 & 2, another premiere, is the latest development of Oguike’s investigations with the exemplary lighting designer Guy Hoare. Oguike himself dances the opening section with pensive, feral elegance, riffing against the four musicians planted onstage.

Watching him move as Kerenza Peacock’s violin flies restlessly above the tidal pull of Bill Evans’s Peace Piece is a quiet thrill. Then, like a clawed animal inching along on its back, he expires. For part two, Nuno Campos and Nuno Silva slip onstage with the conspiratorial stealth of jackals ready to fight or feast. The result is tense, stringent drama that is mysteriously deadly and tantalisingly incomplete.

Finale, to the French composer René Aubry’s fleet, Latin-tinged rhythms, is a self-explanatory crowd-pleaser. Dipped in gold and blue, the zesty dancers skip, slink and kick up their heels for us without a trace of cheesiness. Such exhilarating, organic sexiness could heat up the coldest night.

© - 2004 Donald Hutera - The Times Newspapers Ltd


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