Racing Towards Understanding


Teatro Víctor Fernández Gopar “El Salinero”

We are accustomed to music making us more aware, or poetry pointing out tolerance, or songs saying it as it is. This, though, was a silent performance that spoke of tradition, faith, culture and hope and fear. These ´storytellers´ took us dancing towards understanding, so come follow your art and dance to the universal emotions of human-kind.

Some readers will know that my son is married to a South Korean girl and has lived over there for twenty years now, running their own school and bringing up our eleven year old grand-daughter, Olivia. Last night, brought to us ´through the medium of dance´, we were given a rare insight into the arts and culture they enjoy over there. Here on a Lanzarote stage, we saw some of the finest contemporary dancers from South Korea performing among representatives of international award winner from around the worlds. Although we had already been aware of some of the cultural compare and contrast situations between The Canary Islands, the UK and South Korea this was a wonderful opportunity to view everything through a South Korean interpretation. 

This was part of the tenth anniversary tour of Masdanza, with five award winning dance companies represented; two from South Korea and one each from Mexico, Taiwan and Spain. Although the Masdanze event was established more than quarter of a century ago, there was reason to landmark this occasion as it was the tenth consecutive year the tour has visited Lanzarote, Audiences Are still being controlled by covid protocols here in The Canary Islands but although the house didn´t look full, it certainly seemed as if every ticket made available had been snapped up. It also seemed as if most of the snappers, young and lithe looking compared to the two pensioners in our seats, could well have been dance practitioners as well as dance fans.

What we saw here on stage was the athleticism of professional sports competitors, routines of world class choreography and delivery and the (physical) communication skills that are part of articulate and enthralling storytelling.

This event was organized by Qué Tal Estás Producciones, directed by the dancer and choreographer Natalia Medina, and by the Culture area of the Cabildo de Lanzarote. The Government of the Canary Islands collaborates in the organization through the Canary Islands Institute of Cultural Development. The show lasted about 70 minutes and held this audience enthralled throughout.

The first of the pieces delivered was  Flower Heart, a work created and performed by dancer and choreographer Yang Byung Hyun, from South Korea. With music by Sigur Ros (Fjogur Piano), Byung Hyun tries to convey in his piece the idea of the transit of time: ´As people age, our bodies and heart wither, but fortunately, unlike the body, the heart can flourish again´. The dance perfectlñy explored that aphorism. The solo performer seemed to be constantly exploring the reach and scope and ability of his limbs, testing them for strength and suppleness, and even as they aged he demonstrated tha this heart was somehow replenished. It was a dace that showed a human being constantly flexing his muscles to check their strength and incredible am choreography showed him to sometimes be binding himself in knots and having to rely on his body´s ability to free itself from constraints of his own making.

The next work Cuando somos, (When We Are), created and performed by the Spanish dancers Carla Cervantes Caro and Sandra Egido Ibáñez. This piece talked about the space that two people inhabit when they are together. ´When we are earth, skin and water. When we are in essence being present. When we are plural we are the same element. We are when there is listening´, said the explanatory text of the show.

The original music was by Nico Casal, although it also featured a song by Young Collective. The lighting effects were created by Antonio Navarro.

The two female performers spent much of the performance interlocked so tightly that thanks to (deliberate)  tricks of the light it was almost impossible to identify which limbs belonged to which body. It was a mirrored, reflective choreography that called for all sorts of contrived body positions, so tightly meshed that two became one as well as slipping and sliding gracefully to release from hold and then return to that cocoon of shared space. There were no questions of who ´owned´ who: this I think was a representation of a partnership of mutual love, need and respect.

The Mexican performace was  Mientras el félido duerme, (When The Felid Bites), a work created and performed by Danya Guadalupe González Cristerna. With costumes designed by the dancer herself, lighting design was by Mario Edén Cázares and music by Nicolas Jaar, Vetusta Morla and Telefon Tel Aviv. The author talks about appearances and speeches, about a body out of control, in the solitude of her private space. If I didn´t make all of those connections that was the fault of this audience member not of anyone to do with the production. I was distracted to follow my own road less travelled by a pair of high heeled shoes that sat centre stage throughout a performance that had the dancer occasionally wandering away from, but always returning to a close proximity with them. I followed my own sidetracks & detours, signposted by my own cultural references; this was Cinderella, surely. Throughout the routine the dancer revealed her character´s vulnerability as she danced barefoot, cleverly demonstrating her wavering certainty about who she was or where she was going. The performance ended with her returning to the shoes, sitting cross-legged to force her feet into them, then standing and tottering, new-foal like, before cantoring off stage with all the style of a thoroughbred. This left me re-adjusting to my own western cultural reference of how many women seem to feel empowered by their shoes.

We returned to South Korea  to Talk About Death, a show by Nanhee Yook, performed by Nanhee Yook herself and Seoul-yoon Park. With music by Peter Mitchell, the movements of this piece are based on the tradition of Korean funeral ceremonies called SangYeo and Yeom. The work included minimized movements that aim to draw with serenity the thoughts of death as a mere serial process of life. This work was the winner of the MasDanza -NDA 2019 award, South Korea.

It was easy to see why this work was an award winning piece. The two protaganists employed the wooden borders of a square-shaped hole, perhaps to represent a portal between life, death and the eternal. It is possible also to imagine that one dancer represented the living and the other to represent the dead with the dance showing the constant struggle to establish communication between one another. The periods in hold perhaps represented the eternity that together we all seek.

The showcase closed with Divergence, a piece from Taiwan, whose choreography was the work of Chien-Chih Chang, but performed by Siang-Fu Zeng and Tse-An Lin. Here, two characters (one garbed in all white, the other in all black) follow divergent paths. As they walk, sometimes they go in parallel, sometimes they rub, sometimes they overlap, and sometimes they cross paths.

Their relationship seems to be in a state of competition and contention, back and forth between winning and losing without a definitive result. Step by step, they reveal their strategy and general disposition, as if playing chess on a board. However, in the end, they walk side by side as one, moving in the same direction.

There was, as alluded to earlier a semblance of not only chess, the board game, but also to Chess The Time Rice musical a production that this work could easily have slotted into.

The audience stayed on the feet applauding until the entire team of dancers came out to take their deserved ovation, but it should be said that the choreography and lighting and recorded musical accompaniments were also of the very highest order.

When my wife and I lived in England we bother serves as board trustees of Can´t Dance Can, which had the strap line of Everyone Can Dance, which I very nearly disproved. Nevertheless, we saw the hard graft, the teamwork and the mutual respect and trust that goes into making these kind of pieces work. We were stunned by the dancing and teaching skills, not to mention the business acumen of people like Catherine Wilkes, Margaret Greenwood, Lucy Fleet, and Romina Thornton, who now works with Dance United Yorkshire.

Dance United is a non-profit organisation with projects in Ethiopia, Central London, Wessex and Yorkshire. Youths marginalised in society participate in intensive contemporary dance training, which in turn offers them educational qualifications and useful life skills. Each Dance United location has a professional dance company made up of past academy members or local university dancers. The performance company has worked with choreographers such as Dam Van Huynh, Sara Dowling, Lizzie Kew Ross, Darren Ellis and John Ross. Performances have been held in well-known venues throughout England including Sadler’s Wells, Two-Temple Place, The Place, Royal Festival Hall, Theatre Royal Winchester, Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Lawrence Batley Theatre. Over the years, Dance United has worked with a diverse range of beneficiaries, including Ethiopian street children, adult women prisoners and people from across the political divides in Berlin and Belfast.

Can´t Dance Can (formerly SpiralDance) is a community dance company based in the borough of Rochdale. They deliver dance projects and classes to all age groups all across the borough! Before I retired over here to Lanzarote I had the enormous privilege of working alongside them for many years. I remember one wonderful charity fund-raising event in which they danced to the words of Just Poets, created by Pam McKee and I under our stage name. We were accompanied that night by Octavius, a section of the Blackburn Cathedral Choir and Steve Hignett, of Pandemonium, on percussion, 

On another couple of occasions I was thrilled to read  a poem of mine called So Have I as it was beautifully interpreted through dance elsewhere on the stage by Margaret Greenwood.

I´m sure all practitioners, whether dancers or choreographers at both Can´t Dance Can, Rochdale  and Dance United Yorkshire would have been as impressed by the skills demonstrated here on Lanzarote by groups from Mexico, Taiwan, Spain and South Korea as were Dee and I. 

There are still a few events to report on before year end, but for now may I take this opportunity to thank you all for reading this section of Lanzarote Information. Whenever we meet readers at a gig I realise how privileged I am to share a space on this platform as there is always such a positive response to the organisation and what it seeks to achieve.

So may I take this opportunity to say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year not only to my ´bosses´, Miguel and Julie and fellow writers who also submit to Lanzarote Information, but also all those of you who read and support it.  As American song-writer Arty Traum would have put it,…´Happy Trails to you´.