Leeds, Yorkshire Dance Centre
by Ian Palmer
Ascendance Rep, a small Northern based contemporary dance company has grown up considerably since its inception back in 1999. Then, as now, its Founder Artistic Director was Rachel Wesson (whose beautiful Soleil some may recall seeing at The Place a few years ago) who brought with her a determination to create audiences out of local communities by presenting them with contemporary dance in unconventional spaces – shopping centres, book shops, galleries – introducing them to, and educating them in its language, its style, its boldness. I recall discovering the company quite by chance whilst wandering through Borders Books one day and being drawn to them, by their freshness, their vitality. I was not alone. Since then, the company has gained important funding from the Arts Council and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and on the back of this it has launched its most ambitious tour to date. All praise, therefore, to Rachel Wesson for her inspired leadership, her artistic vision and her guts for programming three intelligent, challenging and ultimately (in their own individual ways) pleasing works.
We begin with a work from local choreographer, Gary Clarke, his Social Disease, an exploration of Andy Warhol, his obsession with celebrity, its transition from self-worth to self loathing, its truths, its falsehoods, its birth its death. Just as Warhol’s vision of art arises from the ordinary (the dancers line up twenty boxes of Kellogg’s Cornflakes, as reminder of his repetitive collages) so too does his vision of celebrity. As the dancers, the height of Warhol’s cool, slink to the soundtrack of Velvet Underground, capturing themselves in photographic snap-shots, absorbing themselves in images of self-worship (kissing, boot-licking), giving in to the trappings of hedonism (substance sniffing), we see the fifteen minutes (of course) ticking, the disease spreading, until it explodes with the sound of a gun-shot, the final vision of celebrity’s self-destruction and its ultimate glorification in death.
In Tom Roden’s witty The Up and Down People, we see a
manifestation of the physical and mental states of “being up” and “being
down”. Dance is focused around the vertical - the four dancers jump up
like Jack-in-the-Boxes to the plucked guitar of Michael Gallasso’s score,
(movement is spiky, effervescent) before collapsing into lyricism and
stillness. They address the audience, “You’re only allowed to look at me.
I’m up!” and relate stories of their lives, playing games with thoughts
and motion, where “up” becomes “down” and “down” becomes “up”. It is a
gentle work, rather like a soft breeze blowing across the stage, fresh in
it readiness, eager in its humour, balanced in its texture.
Jan de Schynkel’s Habitual Welders
© Chris Sands
The four dancers who form the company - Barbara Schmid, Marie Hallager
Anderson, Paul Wilkinson and Anna Bjerre Larsen, together with the
company’s Education Co-ordinator, Charis Osbourne – dance here with real
integrity, with clarity of movement and a real belief in their art. But
belief in the art of dance seems to me integral to Rachel Wesson’s vision
for her company and as it embarks on its tour we can only wish them