‘P & J’, ‘My Big Pants’, ‘36’, ‘Running Up the Down Escalator’, ‘Braid’
Robin Howard Dance Theatre, The Place, London; July 1, 2011
After many national and international performances, EDge, the graduate company of the London School of Contemporary Dance, returned home with a programme of four new works, including two from 2011 Place Prize finalists, Ben Duke and Eva Recacha, alongside a revival of Jeremy James’ signature piece, “My Big Pants”.
The dancers showed much promise. They performed with lots of energy in works that were packed with free or quirky movement. That may be where British contemporary dance is today, but it was a little disappointing that we did not see more of other aspects. Only in the Martin Forsberg’s intensely complex “Braid”, did they really get the chance to show their technique, and that they could dance with control and precision for sustained long period.
Opening proceedings was Recacha’s “P & J”. It opens with two dancers grappling and pushing each other back and forth like a couple of wrestlers. Recacha likes to use text in her work and sure enough there’s an awful lot of shouting as protagonists are egged on verbally by the rest of the cast. The brightly coloured costumes and upbeat Slavic sounding rhythms suggest a circus theme, albeit one where things have rather got out of hand. Only when reading the programme later did I discover it was supposed to be a group of puppets, having a wild backstage party.
Despite the jolly sounding title, “My Big Pants”, remounted by Sonja Pedro from the original cast, was entirely darker in mood and deeper in meaning. It’s a piece full of contrasts. There’s plenty of fast staccato movement, although the cast of four never lost the required accuracy and precision. As ever though, it was the stillnesses and slower moments that lingered in the memory, as when three of the cast walk slowly back from the audience, each mouthing words in a private conversation with themselves.
The programme described Jorge Crecis’ “36” as a “dance sport” with unpredictable rules and shifting roles. The first half consisted largely of the cast throwing 36 half-filled plastic water bottles between themselves and shouting the numbers 1 to 11. But sport needs an objective, and if there was one here it was lost on me. It all quickly got as tedious as it sounds. The props were far more effective when put on the floor, as when placed around prone bodies as you would put candles around the dead, and later when lined up in six rows of six, creating a sort of grid in which rather more interesting dance took place.
Quite why many of today’s choreographers want dancers to speak or otherwise vocalise is beyond me. All too often it is little more than an addition to or substitute for music; a sort of aural wallpaper that far from adding to a piece all too often highlights the paucity of the choreography. It is also nothing new. There are times, though, when it all makes perfect sense, and in “Running Up the Down Escalator”, Ben Duke showed just how effective it can be.
Duke came to dance late, having originally trained as an actor. You can tell. He uses speech a lot in his work, but the big difference is that it always has purpose. It always exists as an equal with the movement. “Running Up the Down Escalator” is set around a chance meeting between a man and a beautiful woman at Angel tube station. “It had to be there”, we are told in an aside to the audience, “so I could tell the children I met her at the Angel station.” It’s about indecision and tangled web of alternative scenarios that may, or may not, have really happened, but that we can all understand and relate to. Structurally the work is a sort of contemporary dance version of one of those old Hollywood musicals, the dance and the text kept separate but informing each other and the overall narrative. And when the dance came, what gloriously juicy dance it was, filled to the brim with emotion and resonance.
Martin Forsberg’s “Braid” is full of complex, multilayered meaning as well as complex choreography that features ever-changing small groups in among the larger milieu. From the very opening moment that featured a stage light swinging above a darkened stage filled with assorted characters, it’s also intensely moody. What you don’t see and what happens in the shadows takes on as much importance as what happens in the light. The intrigue is added to by the odd costumes including someone in a fancy dress bear suit (minus the head); a stocky man in a flimsy, strappy dress; and a woman in a huge T-shirt; all individuals, but individuals making common cause. Forsberg lets you make up your own mind as to meaning, but unlike the opening three works in particular, also leaves you wanting more.EDge continues on tour to Vila Nova de Famalicao, Portugal; and to Bray, County Wicklow and Birr, County Offaly in Ireland. See http://www.theplace.org.uk/491/performance-listings/performance-listings for details.