Freq, Toccata, Butterfly Dreaming
Henri Oquike Dance Company
Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House, London; March 8, 2011
After a while making work for other companies, including the successful “Tread Softly” for Rambert, Henri Oguike is back with a new group of dancers and three new works in a programme that while interesting and imaginative, was ultimately less than wholly satisfying.
Best of the three pieces was “Butterfly Dreaming,” co-choreographed with former Random dancer Anh Nguyen, and inspired by a story by Chuang Tzu, a third century BC Chinese philosopher. A man wakes after dreaming he was a butterfly. But was it a dream? Or was he really a butterfly who was now dreaming he was a man?
Set to four movements from Tan Dun’s dramatic “Ghost Opera,” the shadowy work questions where the reality is in the situation. The dancers bend and twist themselves into ever more inventive insect-like shapes, often rolling and creeping across the floor as if midway between being asleep and awake. The ultra-bendy Stephanie Hodgson, whose arms often looked more like wings folding and unfolding than human limbs, and partner Josef Perou come together in series of strange duets that weave around the stage, while Elena Zaino comes and goes; an outsider in this strange world. All takes place beneath Yaron Abulafia’s ever-changing lighting installation that suggests a starry night sky. “Butterfly Dreaming” is often beautiful and mesmerising, but it also has moments when it loosens its grip, and ultimately it struggles to fully hold the attention.
Abulafia’s lighting was very much to the fore in “Freq”, the evening’s opener. It starts quite enigmatically with a man sitting on platform as a stream of water falls behind him. Zaino appears, dipping her hands and feet in the resulting pool. What, we wonder is going to happen. Well, he walks off and she takes a shower. She does take her dress off eventually and, later, some strobe lighting creates a slow motion, but essentially that’s it. Before getting to the strobes Abulafia does wonders with his side lights and creates some arresting moments as the spray bounces off Zaino’s body. At times it looks like a shower from a firework. But as a piece of choreography “Freq” ultimately says little and goes nowhere.
All that water caused another problem: there had to be a lengthy interval just 15 minutes into the evening. When we finally restarted things looked up. “Toccato”, danced to selections from two Bach Cello Suites, played live on stage, saw Oguike in more familiar territory. A mix of duets, solos and trios it is rhythmically rich and shows off all his trademark musicality and lyricism. Occasionally the dancers are as much in conversation with the musician as they are with the music or with each other, making it a sort of “Trio Concertante.” But although full of solid dance, occasional moments of fun, and the dancers showing off their not inconsiderable technique, it again failed to quite make the mark. Part of the problem was that it did get rather repetitive, although how much that was a result of an injury causing the piece to be reduced from a quartet is unclear.