Tuesday 9 February 2010

Yesterday by the Jasmin Vardimon Company (Review)

Of all the art forms, I believe dance to be the most ephemeral. Although plays equally depend on a stage to come alive, there's usually a manuscript that ensures lasting legacy, otherwise how would we know about Shakespeare and Molière? Paintings are created and displayed in museums or arts centres around the world. Photographs are framed and hung for the amusement of many an aficionado. But dance is evanescent. I'm not talking about pieces for television or cinema, or choreographies that are filmed at a particular venue and then shown on the box. I'm referring to the pure, unadulterated experience of watching dance in a theatre. Just any kind of dance: contemporary, African or African-derived, experimental, classic ballet. To me, the instant the curtain falls, all I'm left with is the memory of the soloist's technique, or the togetherness displayed by the supporting cast.

This fleeting aspect of dance's make-up should not, however, be taken as a sign of failure. A good choreographer's observational experience will influence his or her audience, sometimes leaving them marked by a particular piece. And that was the case with Jasmin Vardimon when I recently saw her insightful work 'Yesterday' at The Place in Euston, London. Jasmin used her latest choreography to look back on her company's ten-year career. Along the way she revisited characters from previous pieces, which resulted in a tour de force where amazing duets and dazzling solos combined with video and animation to regale the spectator a passionate, physical and intellligent story.

Although it was the first time I had seen the Jasmin Vardimon Company - and it won't be the last one, I hope - the retrospective element did not floor me. On the contrary, dance has a peculiar way of exercising collective memory; thus, some of the themes explored by 'Yesterday' were familiar: the woman who self-harms, the über-patriotic Englishman, the couple whose burning house symbolises the collapse of their domestic bliss. These are topics that are addressed in both a dramatic and humorous way.

Jasmin grew up in Israel and for many years trained as a gymnast. It was only by chance that she was spotted by a ballet teacher and from then on her love affair with dance started. Having being conscripted for two years' compulsory military service, she trained as a psychological interviewer. This task allowed her to develop a very observant nature which has served her well in developing her own work. As she herself has stated: '... the fascinatign reality of this job was that it exposed me to an incredible wealth of human stories and personal histories; harrowing, haunting, jubilant - a melting pot of real human experiences.'

That these experiences have informed her work well is beyond dispute. However, if we take into account the debate going on in the dance world in the UK nowadays about women's role in this art form, the future presents many hurdles for the likes of Jasmin Vardimon were they to get the recognition they rightly deserve. This situation reached its apogee recently when Dance Umbrella, Britain's flagship dance festival, hosted a debate entitled, rather ominously, 'Where Are All the Women?'. It was a sell-out.

It is a strange situation, though, because dance's profile in the UK has grown considerably in the last few years. And at the time of writing this review, one of the more popular programmes on telly on Saturday evening is BBC1's 'So You Think You Can Dance'. But look closely and the male names will start jumping at you like wild salmon leaping out of a river. Matthew Bourne (and his innovative all-male 'Swan Lake'), Russell Maliphant and his extensive, experimental collaborations, Mark Baldwin and his highly influential Ballet Rambert; these are some of the figures leading the way currently in the UK'S dance sphere. The main reason for their success is not just their quality, for they have it aplently, but also the type of work they produce: bombastic, bona fide box-office-hit and large-scale.

In contrast, female choreographers such as Jasmin Vardimon focus more on personal life stories, with a lower profile and a more emotionally-driven agenda. Is this a gender issue? Maybe, there are some indicators I can see: physicality (men are more willing to rip off their clothes to show off their six-packs), marketability (men are better at promoting themselves to choreographers), ratio (with more women than men taking up dance as a career it doesn't take a genius to figure out who will reap better results in the long-term) and opportunism (many of the trailblazers of the early 20th century were women, but it was men who took over and cashed in on the success of their female counterparts' experimental styles). There are many more indicators of which I can think, but these will suffice for now. Also, I am not passing any judgement on the ones I mentioned before.

The Jasmin Vardimon Company, however, goes some way to redress this imbalance. 'Yesterday' had a very proportionate amount of brawn and brain and you'll notice that when you watch the clip below. Its lack of central narrative was, in the words of the choreographer, the biggest challenge. And yet, as Jasmin stated:'... in turn, this allowed a freedom in itself. In 'Yesterday', the location is my memory'.

And mine. And yours.

To find out more about the Jasmin Vardimon Company's current UK tour, click here.

Next Post: 'Living in a Bilingual World', to be published on Thursday 11th February at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. I haven;t heard of this company - they sound really interesting - thanks for the review and greetings from a snow-capped Mexico!!

  2. I completely understand what you mean about the ephemeral nature of dance. I once had the great fortune of seeing the British Ice Dancing champions perform here in San Francisco. It was a brilliant production of sheer genius and ingenuity. I don't think it was recorded but I will never forget that performance.

    One of the reasons why I love working with flowers is the ephemeral nature of its materials. Once it's gone, it's gone and we are left with the memory of the scent, the colors and forms.

    I thought the video was very interesting with moments of true inspiration but I agree that it could benefit from a more cohesive theme to give the work more unity.

  3. This is amazing, Cuban. I find the dancing mesmerizing. Such talent. Thanks for this review, Cuban. It puts me in mind of the extraordinary capacity of the human body to communicate through movement. If you have the time, take a look at this, my nephew who is more a gymnast than a dance but I also find his movements enthralling. www.thissideupacrobatics.com

  4. Fabulous review Cuban, I love dance and so regret not seeing some of the all-time greats (and great companies) in performance in real time, as dance is the art-form that is truly, so ephemeral.

  5. Great review and thanks for the video, lovely!

  6. Amazing photo! Are the dancers leaping or held up by wires?

    It was interesting how you connected gender and choreography.

    The Mozart (?) in the clip was an unusual accompaniment to modern dance. I loved how the dancers interacted with the serrated back curtain. Very dynamic and emotional.

  7. It is with such great love, and need(in the best way) that this was written. The juxtoposition of the classical sound and the contemporary dance is very familiar to me, having grown up with almost weeky visits to the NY City Ballet when Ballenchine reigned. I admit that I must watch "So you think...", American version...I would if I could!! Always, thank you..

  8. What a riveting piece! I actually liked the tumultuous nature of the performance. I'm a dance fan too. Many thanks for calling my attention to this company.

  9. Many thanks for your kind comments. It is a Mozart piece, indeed, from his requiem. And no, there're no strings attached :-), that's them jumping. Cracking shot, isn't it?

    Greetings from London.

  10. What an amazing post, Cuban! I'm a huge fan of dance, though I'm not a dancer, myself. Of course, I've dabbled, but it's being in the audience that I truly enjoy, at this time in my life. My sister is a professional dancer at the Cairo Opera Ballet and back when I lived in Cairo, I used to attend many of her performances, as well as those of visiting companies. You describe how ethereal the dance art form is so well. It's true that with a live dance performance, there are things we feel and experience through our presence there, that we would never experience through watching a recording. And it's also a fact that one split second of distraction from what is happening can cost us, the audience, a critical moment in the performance. The video clip is fascinating... the photograph even more so. Amazing what we can do with our bodies, and how we can use them to express whole ranges of emotion.

    Thank you for sharing your dance recital experience with us, Cuban. It was a pleasure to "be there" with you.


  11. What I find fascinating about dance, if I may talk about it in my own unsophisticated way, is that no matter what language the song was in, the language of dance is universal. We take in the meaning of dance though our eyes and our ears and our very pores because it affects our whole bodies and minds.


  12. I am such a philistine. I loathe that something this beautiful is ephemeral. Wouldn't you love to be able to hear and see Mozart perform his own works? Shakespeare plays performed when he lived? Record everything I say~! Don't let it disappear into memories only when we have the ability to record it. The true beauty sometimes is that a performance can never be repeated exactly...there will always be differences, sometimes subtle, sometimes not. And, yes, I know that it can be a poor echo of what was actually happening, but still, there it is. I guess because I can picture my grandpa playing his fiddle and people dancing but what I wouldn't give to have it to play over and over.



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