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Russell Maliphant


by Annie Wells

4 April 2009 -- London Coliseum

In fittingly recession busting fashion, Maliphant used four re-staged duets to look back on the ten years of work that have forged him a place as an important British choreographer.

Unmistakably from the same camera, these carefully selected snapshots were varied enough in dynamic and focus to maintain a good level of pace and interest. Whether or not familiar with Maliphant’s body of work, the programme should have left spectators with a clear sense of the particularities of style, dimension and design that have come to define him as a dance artist.

Perfectly embodied in the duet, the vigorous power and unerring flow of Maliphant’s distinctive corporeal language was one of the factors that unified the presentation. While founded on the rigours of a classical training in ballet, it is plain to see how his dance vocabulary has been influenced by the slant of martial art, yoga and modern dance forms such as Capoeira and contact improvisation.

Opening and closing the evening, “Knot” (2001) and “Critical Mass” (1998) exemplified this in particular and had a lot in common as physical explorations of male-to-male interactions occurring in dance, friendship or combat.

Despite what I have said about variety, I did debate whether the two works had enough individuality to be on the same bill. However, as I have experienced with Maliphant material before, while not enraptured by each whole, I was captivated by the character and quality of each unfolding moment. That added to the standard of Daniel Proietto and Ivan Putrov’s execution of “Knot” and the privilege of experiencing Adam Cooper and Maliphant’s own performance of “Critical Mass”, I would have been able to watch such duets all night.

So held by what I saw, I was glad to spot a crack in Cooper and Maliphant’s created illusion of weightless and ease when they slipped momentarily in a lift. This was not because it presented an opportunity to criticise but a humbling insight into what it was taking to power their masculine bodies so fluidly through the herculean sequences of movement.

Showcased tonight as another fundamental feature of every Maliphant production were Michael Hull’s lighting designs. In long-established partnership, the choreographer works with the lighting designer from the beginning of the creative process as others might with a musical composer. Light is essential to the development of the movement from the start and definitive to a work’s ultimate mood and shape.

With impacts that would have been diminished significantly without Hull’s contribution, “Sheer” and “Two x Two” provided two solid examples of this feature in practice.

The intrinsic intimacy of “Sheer”, a dance Maliphant made on himself and his wife Dana Fouras in 2001, was recaptured to perfection by the diaphanous pair of English National Ballet artists Thomas Edur and Agnes Oaks. Dressed solely by light, the stage seemed shadowy and immense. So with the action set so far back, it was necessary to squint like a voyeur to catch the delicate detail of the movement as it whispered down Hull’s shrouded corridors and into dim chambers. Versus the tantalisation of having so many aspects of the motion dissolve into the obscurity, the soaring lifts and intricate combinations the eye was allowed to feast on tasted all the more exquisite.

Finally in “Two x Two” (2009) Maliphant and Hull combine forces to inspire a feeling equivalent to the adrenalin-fuelled exhilaration some get from riding a roller-coaster or jumping out of a plane. Staged in the past as a solo and trio, Maliphant used the duet variation to pump new life and dimension into an old innovation that roots dancers to the spot and confines stretch of body and limb to Hull’s small boxes of light. The ten-minute product arising from these constraints is so unpredictable that it can’t fail to take the breath. As Andy Cowton’s sound score builds from drip to beating torrent, initially subtle arm movements increase in force and flow. Sweeping closer to their shining limits, they pull the restricted body into ever deeper dips and twists. Then suddenly as if the energy of the denied propulsion can be no longer contained, all elements explode together into a Catherine-wheeling climax of merged motion, sound and light.

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