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George Piper Dances - 'Mesmerics,' 'Broken Fall,' 'Approximate Sonata, I, V'

by Lyndsey Winship

March 23-27, 2004 -- Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

It's often easy to forget that contemporary dancers have a sense of humour, but Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt's video diaries, which intersperse the three pieces on tonight's programme, always raise a chuckle. Nevertheless, the cheeky knockabout charm of their camcorder exploits is a complete contrast to their serious stage personae. Whether the two sides of GPD will ever come together remains to be seen.

Perhaps it's better this way, for who would want to taint the honesty and gravity of their dancing, beautifully exposed in Christopher Wheeldon's "Mesmerics." This is warm, captivating choreography with real emotional depth, and the success of the piece owes a great deal to its soundtrack (music from Phillip Glass's string quartets). With music as immediate, enveloping and soulful as this, it would be hard not to be moved, but Wheeldon's choreography also delivers. With a nod to the minimalist composer, Wheeldon makes use of repetitive movements, developing phrases on tilting frames, bodies winding and swirling in weighted circles, connected at the midriff, shadowed by dancers in the background.

A constant thread of movement swells in a very subtle crescendo with soft dives into forward rolls, long low leaps and lovely use of clear straight lines. There are some delicious moments -- a lingering horizontal leg on a pirouette, the impeccably controlled tempo of a yo-yo-ing string of chainees -- they don't need to shout about their technique, they just use it.

William Trevitt and Monica Zamora find an intense empathy in their duet, while Michael Nunn and Oxana Panchenko are more rhythmic but still tender. New addition Hubert Essakow blends in well, and the only duo that doesn't gel is when the girls dance together.

In the preceding video diary, we see Wheeldon at work in the studio, watching the dancers on his laptop, replaying movements and making choreographic decisions on screen. It's clear how much the cut and paste culture of modern technology has influenced the making of dance, and as Glass's epic minimalism is sliced into exquisite excerpts, the dancers' solos, duets and trios also fade in and out in enticing vignettes.

"Mesmerics" is beautifully paced and structured, with only a glimpse of a climax when all five dancers move together in a canonic ripple. But although it leaves you longing for more, the piece draws to a close with a real sense of fulfillment.

There's only one gripe about this piece -- what with beautiful music and dance and intimate dim lighting, why did they have to wear such awful costumes? Black shiny lycra with red piping is not a good look; it is totally at odds with the feel of the piece. Save it for the Tour de France.

"Mesmerics" was runner up at the Laurence Olivier Awards, but it was another of tonight's pieces, Russell Maliphant’s "Broken Fall," which snatched the Best New Dance Production gong. In my mind, the judges got it the wrong way round, but "Broken Fall" may have clinched the title because it was originally Sylvie Guillem who partnered the boys.

Guillem's replacement, Monica Zamora, is perfectly able in the role, but she doesn't exert much presence. Manipulated by Nunn and Trevitt, she provides a hinge and a plaything for the male dancers who set her up for a catalogue of acrobatic feats -- falling ramrod straight into a horizontal catch, plummeting vertically through the air only to be caught inches from the floor, balancing on shoulders or palms of hands. But whereas you expect Guillem gave the impression that she was controlling time and gravity at her whim, Zamora is more the obedient conjurors assistant, and when a trick goes without a hitch there's a feeling of relief rather than awe. In complete contrast to "Mesmerics," Barry Adamson's awful music takes all the pleasure from this piece. The score is a mess of plodding synth, echo-y effects and limp beats and detracts from all of Maliphant and GPD's good work.

William Forsythe's "Approximate Sonata, I, V" is the least engaging piece on show, but then that is in keeping with his detached, deconstructed style. It opens with Hubert Essakow prowling slowly down the stage making silent snarls and giving the front rows a clear view of his tonsils. This odd little introduction gives way to a duet between Essakow and Panchenko that never really finds a connection. His quick twisty hips and puck-like scamper are interrupted by the petulant Panchenko. She is impressive but I don't find her a very likeable dancer -- she's all about her hyperextensions -- and while it's all interesting enough to look at, there's little to really draw you in.

In all though, a fascinating and very enjoyable evening.

Edited by Lori Ibay

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