Lithuania’s Aura Rewrite the Rules at Transgressions 2019

By Michelle Dee

Ar galiu su jumis pašokti? Contemporary Dance returned to the Live Art Space in spectacular fashion with the arrival of Aura Dance Theatre to Ferens Art Gallery this weekend. Saturday evening at Transgressions 2019 saw the first ever visit to the UK by Lithuania’s leading dance company Aura led by Birutė Letukaitė.


‘I Wish to be the blossom of a Fern’ Aura Dance Theatre at Transgressions 2019

Audiences were treated to a sensational full-length dance work I Wish To Be The Blossom of a Fern. And what a performance, with bold, imaginative choreography, beauty and exuberance. It was no surprise after witnessing work of such high quality, that audiences rose to their feet to give Aura a standing ovation.

In 2016 digital artist Ed Grimoldby collaborated on Rosetta – Grim Visions with Lithuanian dancer Živilė Virkutytė. The dystopian dance work went on to win Hull Dance Prize in 2017 and also closed this year’s Transgressions festival.


Upon first seeing the work, Keyna Paul, Hull Dance Creative Director, was moved to dig deeper into what was happening within contemporary dance in Lithuania.  Živilė helped Keyna to discover a vibrant dance sector with a rebellious approach to choreography and performance. The Lithuanian dance companies visiting Hull this weekend have given Trangressions 2019 a wide international appeal and opened up new audiences to world class performance, over the past three days.

I Wish to Be The Blossom of A Fern

I was really taken by the imagination in the movement, the way a linked circle divided the larger group in two. How a pulse at one end of a line resulted in the simultaneous pushing out of a dancer at the other end underlining how each dancer was connected to the other. The first section of the work a duet, included what was possibly trad Lithuanian folk singing and the reverence of red heeled shoes. I  was put in mind of a child trying on the shoes, later with the careful placing of the shoes I felt that the owner might now be absent.

The second section began with the rush of the rest of the company manoeuvring themselves in such a way to create a pile of bodies with one inverted on their hand seemingly growing from within the mass of bodies. How each came to life was thrilling each one inverted on their heads like an ancient forest living breathing and unpredictable. It was widely agreed that one moustached dancer, slight in build set the piece on fire, he leaped and spun out from the group who had at that moment been playing with momentum and transference, as the two ends of the line were flexed in, out and across each other. This slightly built dancer filled the space with heart-racing exhilaration and energy as he erupted stage front.


Blossom of a Fern asks searching questions about how we reconnect to the natural world, whether we need to get back to our roots. I wonder whether getting bad to our roots is quite the answer rather learning about the roots of others might be the way forward. To build relations, share cultures with the spirit of generosity and understanding rather than being protective over our heritage. The act of reaching out to Lithuanians in Hull through dance has been hugely rewarding. I look forward to reaching out to more communities to share in cultural exchange via the unparalleled power of dance.

Aura Dance Theatre put on a spectacular performance and dance leaders in the audience agreed the work rivalled and even surpassed, that of like-companies in the UK.

Michelle Dee is a Freelance Digital Media Journalist specialising in the Arts and Culture sector in Hull, City of Culture 2017 Michelle graduated with a first class honours degree in Interactive Media/Digital Media Journalism from Hull School of Art and Design 2009 – 2012.

Visit Michelle Dee’s Website

Ceyda Tanc at Transgressions 2019

By Michelle Dee

Kaya was tribal, ritualistic. I thought it was Egypt, Pharaohs with fantastic balance of emotion and strength and power, the strength being in performance and the ability of the dancers who although each individuals, worked seamlessly as one-Helen Powell, dancer

It will please choreographer Ceyda Tanc that Helen mentions ‘Pharaohs’ when responding to the dance work Kaya. Ceyda (pronounced Jayda) actively takes traditional Turkish male choreography for her company to embody and presents it within a contemporary score. I was very taken by the storytelling, astonished by the ability to create an atmosphere of intrigue and mysticism beside the burger stand in the indoor market. I am not sure whether it is I who is dreaming or they, but each dancer has a look in her eyes, almost hypnotic as if caught in a trance.   

Five extremely talented dancers dressed in loose sand-coloured garments shared a work about displacement and groups of people searching for a new community… fitting seeing as they were dancing right beside the food stalls all serving up international flavours. Lightness, strength, and connection characterise the work that is accompanied by an Eastern music score that builds to a dramatic conclusion. There are certain motifs and phrases that stand out: the pouring or anointing gesture; their version of the dervish circle; the lifts, with the feet floating on the air is majestic; the tenderness and resilience, as one dancer carries the other curled up on her back. All these different components help imbue the work with a sense of authenticity and history.

After the performance one of the dancers described to me how it is not easy to create an atmosphere, dancing by the burgers. Despite the challenges presented by the setting, the response from the Saturday crowds was reassuringly positive, each performance prompting enthusiastic and well-deserved applause.

‘Well choreographed’ and ‘Enjoyed seeing how strong they were: surprising’ and also ‘I have been inspired to make a costume just like theirs’ just a few of the comments from the crowds.   

No strangers to Hull the Ceyda Tanc company based in Brighton have collaborated with local dancers previously culminating in a show at Hull Truck. Ceyda who began her all-female dance company in 2012 has both British and Turkish heritage and perfectly exemplifies the dual culture theme running through Transgressions 2019.

It was during Ceyda’s final year of her degree at Roehampton researching traditional Turkish dance whereupon she received an invitation to a conservatoire in Turkey.  She describes how she learned a new movement vocabulary with an emphasis on the social, a world away from university. Ceyda now gives her company the opportunity to learn the choreography first hand by visiting the conservatoire themselves. Their approach to male choreography, owning and performing it themselves, challenges audiences to rethink gender stereotypes and the role of dance in cultural identity.

In a lovely bit of circularity Ceyda’s mentor was Yael Flexer the choreographer behind the opening event Smudge.

Michelle Dee is a Freelance Digital Media Journalist specialising in the Arts and Culture sector in Hull, City of Culture 2017 Michelle graduated with a first class honours degree in Interactive Media/Digital Media Journalism from Hull School of Art and Design 2009 – 2012.

Visit Michelle Dee’s Website

Smudge Launches Transgressions 2019

by Michelle Dee

Dancing, breathing, learning some of the best things in life… Inside a pop-up studio on Humber Street the pro-company are applying the polish to their section of Smudge, throwing themselves to the floor, and high kicks to the heavens. The community cast wait and watch for their cue as the music and the movement builds to an angelic climax.

Over six days a group of professional dancers from Hull and a community cast – including myself – made up of regulars from the weekly adult contemporary class at State of the Arts, Gary Clarke’s Into the Light, Tamar and Jo’s Unseen Beings and Southpaw’s Rush, have worked with leading choreographer Yael Flexer to create Smudge. The specially commissioned dance work merges dance and digital technology to explore the idea of movement as trace, a constant act of mark-making and erasure. Smudge is also about migration looking at the different pathways we take in our lives over time, the imprint we leave, the memories we make that inform the future and the absences we leave behind.

The performance of Smudge begins outside with a series of chalk graffitis on the cobbled street – this section is immediately renamed ‘walky chalky’ by the cast. The work shifts to the top of Humber Street with dancers responding to the street furniture, the immediate environment and their relationship within it.  The audience follow the performance as it moves down the street in a playful manner, at one point pairs create album cover poses while they are drawn around, leaving their outlines chalked on a metal shutter, as they themselves move on to the next site.

The indoor space is dominated by four long strips of paper creating lanes that echo school sports day. At the end of each is a pile of charcoal powder. The dancers improvise different ways to move up and down the paper leaving footprints, sliding and sharp edges akin to the lines and grooves an ice skater might make cutting through the ice. The movement is accompanied by a score of organic and industrial sounds. This is not so much a dance as a drawing exercise incorporating movement and continues the themes of imprinting, physically placing the foot on the paper and leaving a mark, how that mark, that imprinting, changes when it comes into contact with someone else.

The third section takes place inside the studio and begins with the pro-company with a richly choreographed piece with eye-catching physicality, complicated transitions from floor to standing. The backdrop is a screen digitally mapping each and every movement creating the traces in digital space in realtime.

Over the last few weeks both groups of dancers have been exploring, in collaboration with Yael Flexer and Nick Sandiland, how different movement, different speeds, different parts of the body, can create the pattern series on the screen. And perhaps most pleasing, chases itself away moments later.

Where the pro-company’s piece was detailed and highly choreographed, the community cast used improvisation techniques within set sequences that relied on attention to the quality and intent behind the movement.  When moving in unison they suggested the solidarity within the group, the posse mentality, where-as within the improvised score each dancer’s individuality emerged during the course of the work.

It is interesting to note that some of the audience connected with the playful nature of the outdoors section, where as others preferred the drama of the indoors, and some really found the charcoal mark-making captivating.

‘Mesmeric’ was one comment, another said, ‘I loved the way you [the community cast] moved from the outside to in, and we had no idea as to what was going to happen within each space’ and also ‘I liked the moment when you [community cast] came into the third room and joined the professionals and later again when both groups united and filled the dance space as one unit,’ and also, ‘It was beautiful, so powerful, so honest.’

Keyna Paul Hull Dance Creative Director welcomed the audience and the visiting dance companies and artists to Transgressions 2019, encouraged everyone to seek out much more dance in venues across the city centre as the festival unfolded. And I’m happy to report that they have done just that.

The night ended with the more courageous sections of the audience creating their own traces, improvising movements, understanding how they influenced the ‘smudge self’ and being rewarded with the dramatic and pleasing results on the screen.

Transgressions 2019 launch finishes for the hardcore dancers with two hours of alt. chart-toppers spanning four decades, from Hull’s best-kept secret Deejay Ruth Drake of Hull City Arts and Hull Dance. And now to bed… tomorrow Saturday, we begin with a butoh work called Birds in George Street car park.

Michelle Dee is a Freelance Digital Media Journalist specialising in the Arts and Culture sector in Hull, City of Culture 2017 Michelle graduated with a first class honours degree in Interactive Media/Digital Media Journalism from Hull School of Art and Design 2009 – 2012.

Visit Michelle Dee’s Website

Transgressions 2019-The Lithuanian Connection

By Michelle Dee

Transgressions 2019 was a dance festival that explored questions about dual – cultural heritage, how do groups and people new to a country use dance to find their identity as individuals and artists? It is no accident that Lithuanian companies and performers feature so heavily throughout the three day programme, the first being Okarukas Dance Theatre and the site-specific work ‘Birds’.

Apocalyptic scenes in a car park in Hull as something disturbing and utterly compelling  emerges from the side door of a family hatchback. This is Birds and it is unlike any dance performance I have ever seen. If I told you the four performers barely moved three metres in half an hour, yet I couldn’t take my eyes of them you would not believe me. Another car door opens and squashed impossibly inside the footwell head upside down, arms and legs somehow at odds with the body, is another costumed figure, no more than rags and black feathers giving a visual clue to their avian nature. Imperceptible movement heightens the intensity, their eyes staring straight through you filled with something. What is that despair, menace or something else? I can not avert my eyes, I am transfixed as they creep, slide, fold their contorted selves onto and over the cold concrete of George Street car park.

“Birds was captivatingly silent. Audience scared to breathe as we were stared at by the birds whose movements were so small but huge, and the unpredictability of their next move that they created in the small space was immense and inhuman like. The contrast of the audience being in the sunlight and so close to the birds who performed in cold dark shadows had yet more impact.” Helen Powell dancer Smudge Transgressions 2019

This is butoh and as I learn from Phil Von from Okarukas Dance Theatre my first notions about apocalypse are partially correct. Butoh is a form of dance that originates in post-war Japan after the bombing of Hiroshima where performers sought a new language, removed from traditional ballet and traditional Japanese dance.

“It is the soul within a movement… to ignore the form behind the living transformation of the being from the inside. Butoh is metamorphosis to push for a state of animal, vegetable, mineral.” Phil Von Okarukas Dance Theatre

The avian drama that was ‘unfolding’ in the car park did not feature just any birds they were birds stuck in oil, breathing in the poisons with every breath, not knowing that they are going to die. The thing I saw in their eyes was hope, not despair, they still believe they will fly again. Knowing the intention or story behind the work helps me appreciate it more. As festival goers said afterwards, ‘It wasn’t so much that I enjoyed Birds but I sure appreciated it.’

BBC Look North cameras were filming in there so hopefully we will see something on the local news about this awe-inspiring work. Update: Look North featured clips from Birds and Blossom of a Fern by Aura Dance Theatre with interview feat. Hull Dance’s Keyna Paul.

Butoh Workshop with Sakurako
I was fortunate to join Okarukas Dance Theatre, Phil Von and his mentor the butoh master Sakurako for a workshop the following day at State of the Arts on the High Street. Regular readers will know I attend a contemporary dance class weekly there and I am known for throwing myself into new experiences, but this will almost certainly be one of the most challenging yet. It was like nothing I’ve done before. During the next four hours I bent in ways I previously hadn’t to become oil, and fog and a sakura blossom in the first throes of life, ending a dry dusty husk. I learned that by preparing my feet in a particular way, I can do things that I couldn’t before. The warm-up exercises were at least an hour as the six courageous people including students from the Performance Theatre course at the University of Hull, spent over three hours thoroughly immersed in an art form they had previously only heard about.

The thing I found most exciting, engaging and curious was the concept that lies at the heart of butoh, metamorphosis through the power of the imagination. The idea that a body can stop being a body, surpass all the restrictions on being a body, in pursuit of pure performance feels like a power beyond words. You can tell I am just a little taken with butoh.

I must mention the members of Okarukas who were on hand to support, guide, encourage and observe us during the workshop. Observing and feeding back is a vital part of any learning process. They were generous and warm-hearted with their comments, showing genuine surprise that we had been able to find the focus, and the resilience to keep trying in spite of the new challenge, the new ways of moving, indeed totally new way of thinking about movement. Thank you Sakurako and Okarukas for opening our eyes to butoh.

Next more about the Lithuanian connection and community living here in Hull, the  story spanning three years that lies behind Transgressions 2019, and the spell-binding performance from the second visiting company from Lithuania Aura Dance Theatre…

Michelle Dee is a Freelance Digital Media Journalist specialising in the Arts and Culture sector in Hull, City of Culture 2017 Michelle graduated with a first class honours degree in Interactive Media/Digital Media Journalism from Hull School of Art and Design 2009 – 2012.

Visit Michelle Dee’s Website