Jose Vidal Company
by David Mead
June 12, 2010 -- Robin Howard Dance Theatre, The Place, London
Jose Vidal describes “Loop” as a “live performance and art installation.” The work was inspired by Renaissance paintings and contemporary photography, and while links with visual art are certainly clear, I found more connection with sculpture and classical friezes. Performed in the round as part of The Place’s Square Dances season, the work essentially involves the nine dancers moving from one group pose to another. It was a little like watching a game of Twister played out in three dimensions with the bodies of the participants, who climb on each other and use each other for support, as part of the board. Most frequently the transitions were quite sharp. Considering the complexity of the final positions, most were also remarkably organic and smoothly achieved as each moving mass of bodies morphed into a clear picture.
The dancers give the impression that there are stories behind many of the images presented, although the images are almost always left to the audience to decipher. Why is one man left apart from the group, looking away? What are the dancers reaching out towards? Why does one dancer climb above the others and peer into the distance as if looking for something? In all these positions there is a sort of latent energy, as if the movement, or at least the intention, goes on beyond the stillness. More overt are a few moments of humour, such as when one of the men uses a pink shirt as a matador’s cape, while one of the girls pretends to be a bull. Later, another puts his hands on the butt cheeks of one of the women, who responds with a pointed finger of disapproval.
There is a lot of repetition though, and some poses are repeated continually. After a while, in my case 25 minutes, you start to wonder if it is actually going anywhere. And essentially it doesn’t. The music changes a few times, although most of the time it is little more than aural wallpaper as the dance works through it rather than with it. The sections danced in silence other than the sound of the dancers’ breath are far more effective. The dynamic shifts occasionally, and the cast gradually dispense with much of their clothing, but the organic mass of moving bodies and the stream of snapshots remain.
I can’t help thinking that “Loop” could do with some judicious pruning. Yet, although the mind wandered occasionally, Vidal and his dancers kept drawing me back to the action. It helps being up close, of course, and Gareth Green’s superb lighting is always worth looking at, especially when he uses triangular curtains of light to frame the performance space, and when he fills the floor with tiger-like mustard and black patterning. But the dance has pulling power too. The physicality of the piece is most affecting, and dancing it in the round allows Vidal to continually change the orientation of the performers, giving the audience opportunities to view each frozen group position from multiple perspectives, in much the same way as one might walk round a piece of sculpture to see it from all angles. Although superficially repetitious, I found that things happened or the dance developed almost without me realising. It was much like listening to an unfamiliar piece of minimalist music. At first it all sounds pretty much the same. But the more one listens, or in this case watches, and the longer it goes on, the more one discovers hidden tones and cadences.