Review for Oct. 1st performance:
As I approached the theatre on Saturday evening I realised that my experience of dance programmes consisting of solos and duets was very limited. Nevertheless, I had seen excerpts of “Torsion”, a work created for the Ballet Boyz by this evening’s choreographer, Russell Maliphant, and this memory along with Sylvie Guillem’s reputation ensured that my expectations were high!
The first piece, “Solo”, created for Guillem, was set to flamenco music, and she immediately made a deep impression with a stage presence the like of which I have not encountered before. Initially, Guillem was bathed in orange light, which brightened or dimmed, following the texture of the guitar music, and although the steps were not flamenco based, Guillem’s seductive movement style and her loose white garments certainly gave an impression of the spirit of Spanish dance. Although not fast-paced, Guillem was able to demonstrate her abilities, one moment kicking high, the next making low swooping movements close to the floor.
”Shift”, billed as Maliphant’s signature solo, starts at a slow pace, to the accompaniment of a cello and with extraordinary lighting from Michael Hulls. Amber lights at the front of the stage shine six columns of light onto a white backdrop, creating silhouettes of Maliphant, so that although this work is billed as a solo, there are up to four ‘Maliphants’ on stage, with the angle of the lights creating subtly different silhouettes. The music gives a suggestion of sadness and at one point Maliphant moves as if searching for something. The choreography and the fluid integration of the silhouettes are breathtaking and at the conclusion of this beautiful piece, each column of light slowly fades out, until there is just one left, which then also dies away. Although without narrative or over-emotional content, I can believe that many were deeply moved by “Shift”.
”Two”, the second solo by Guillem, was my favourite of the night, as it gives the greatest scope for her abilities, as well as demonstrating Maliphant’s choreographic style most clearly. The dancer is trapped in a box of light, which eventually dims in the centre and brightens at the border - Guillem tries to break through but at each contact pulls back. This is another brilliant lighting effect, as for fractions of a second a hand or foot will be brighter than the rest of Guillem’s body. As with all the pieces in the programme, the pace of the music is slow at the start, but after a while a clear, pulsing beat kicks in. Her swooping arm movements and fluid leg movements along with the quick changes between standing tall and crouching were performed with a style and verve that I have not seen equalled. “Two” was the highlight of the evening for me.
The question in my mind before “Push” was - can two performers fill a stage for 32 minutes? Unfortunately, the answer in this case was - no. Perhaps my expectations were too high after the first three works and although “Push” has some merits, with performers of this calibre working together I was disappointed not to see something really special. When the lights come up, Guillem is sitting on Maliphant’s shoulders, gradually working her way down to the floor. Twice during the opening section of the work, the lights go out, and each time they come up, Guillem is back on Maliphant’s shoulders. There are some lovely movements as well as fluid sequences where the two performers bend and turn themselves around each other without touching, with suggestions of capoeira. However, there are also periods when they simply walk around the stage, occasionally adding a movement or two - it seemed that Maliphant just didn’t have enough ideas to fill a 30 minute piece. At first, I wondered if Andy Cowton’s score didn’t give the choreographer much to work on, as it opens slowly and continues in the same way, without any climax. However, in the post-performance talk we heard that at least 50% of the material was created before the music was available. Nevertheless, “Push” was certainly a hit with the audience and the applause kept Guillem and Maliphant on-stage for a good five minutes!
I believe that many choreographers could learn from the use of lighting in this programme. In all four pieces, Michael Hulls, the designer, created some of the most imaginative lighting I have seen; especially memorable were the silhouettes in Shift and the box in “Two”. Hulls was rightly given a round of applause at the post-show talk.
Overall, this was a very enjoyable evening, and it was a great experience to see two dancers of such a high standard perform outstanding choreography. Alistair Spalding, the Chief Executive of Sadler’s, assured us that this programme will return.