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Henri Oguike Dance Company - 'Front Line,' 'White Space,' 'FPS,' 'Finale'

by Lyndsey Winship

April 21, 2004 -- Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Back in 1994, Henri Oguike was a founding member of the Richard Alston Dance Company, and a decade on, the influence is clear. Not that the two choreographers' styles are alike -- Oguike's movement is more vivid, more contrary and sometimes more fun than his former director's -- but they share a sense of clarity, quality and a great taste in music.

Shostakovich's "9th String Quartet in E flat" is a meaty piece of music, and performed live by the Pavao Quartet, it makes a rich partner for "Front Line." The dancers manage to match the score's truculent drive and spiked edges with pacy steps and a battery of percussive feet, stamping and slapping the floor, moving with and against the string players' rhythms. Lined up along the front of the stage, the mostly well-matched ensemble makes a strong impact, particularly Sarita Piotrowski, a young dancer with sharp moves and plenty of sass.

Like the music, this choreography is soulful without being over-emotional. There's a sense of struggle and of resilient spirit. Periodically and unexpectedly, the dancers collapse in heaps on the floor. Gunned down on the front line? Broken by their hardships? Or in pure movement terms, the absolute "release" from these firm, frenetic phrases.

With glimpses of gumboots, cossacks and a jig, it feels like "Front Line" is in touch with dance's folk roots. And Oguike shows us in all of tonight's pieces that he hasnít forgotten the genesis of dance -- or what spurs us to perform it.

With Domenico Scarlatti's harpsichord music flurrying in the background, "White Space" toys with the conventions of social dance. Without ever lapsing into slapstick or mimicry, the dancers manage to evoke the poise and posing of court performers -- the prissy walks, the exaggerated presentation, the geometric patterns traced on the floor.

Lighting and video effects are used to dramatise blackened silhouettes and create a slow-moving Mondrian-esque backdrop. At one point, a lovers' duet is interrupted by a close-up video highlighting a sequence of gestures. Although the contrast between baroque gentility and digitally manipulated images is slightly jarring, the purpose is clear. When the dancers then repeat the section, our new-found intimacy with the steps leaves everyone enlightened.

The programme also includes a short new solo, "FPS," danced by the choreographer himself. It's nice to see Oguike on stage with his samurai's speed, strength and grace, but he adds little to the surging improvisatory phrases of Bill Evans's "Peace Piece."

They finish off with "Finale," a carnivalesque celebration bathed in sunny yellow light. Rene Aubrey's Latin dance rhythms cavort across the stage, and the dancers follow suit, some looking more at ease than others with the opportunity to show a bit of personality. "Finale" doesn't quite take the roof off, but it is very infectious nonetheless, and you get the feeling there is so much more to come.

Edited by Lori Ibay

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