Weekly Roundup: 13 April

We interrupt this silence to rave about all the good shows which are on in London over the next week. I'd stopped writing these roundups as it seemed a bit silly for only one or two shows every now and then, but over the next week, we are truly spoiled. Which is a really really good thing if you've seen, or if you're about to see Midnight Express.

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In his 'Brief Introduction to the Shaolin Martial Arts' in the 'Sutra' programme, Meir Shahar suggests the appealing notion that through their Shaolin martial arts training, the monks are not training their bodies for battle (being Buddhist and therefore inherently non-violent), but rather "cultivating their minds for spiritual awakening".

The movement content in Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's 'Sutra' is undeniably impressive, but there is sadly little evidence of anything deeper than incredible physicality. The presence of twenty-one Shaolin monks and Antony Gormley's sixteen large wooden boxes on the Sadler's Wells stage is, however, truly a spectacle unlike any other that's been seen for a long time.

The opening of the work sets up a relationship between Ali Thabet and the youngest of the monks, seemingly pondering deeply over a miniature version of the structure of boxes. The nature of their connection isn't completely clear, but there is a sense of Thabet playing 'puppet master' with the small boxes, dicatating what happens on a larger scale onstage, which continues throughout the work.

With his incredible skill and undeniable cute-factor, the young boy monk has the audience captivated from the start, and is responsible for many of the gently comedic moments sprinkled within 'Sutra'.

Another element of this is Ali Thabet's innate 'non-Shaolin-ness', as he moves through moments of confrontation with individuals and groups of monks, sometimes clumsily and occasionally with real skill.

The piece moves through costume changes from the traditional to more modern suits, as the monks move 'wearing' the boxes and walk in a charming, Chaplin-esque way that carves the space, followed by criss-crossing pathways of incredible tricks to the soundtrack of the monks' shouts and cries.

There is no shortage of striking imagery and heartstoppingly slick moments, and Cherkaoui excels in choreographing the space through frenetic moments and times of stillness, juxtaposing the Shaolin elements of calmness and aggression in equal measure.  

Although the monks' movement does not lend itself readily to musicality, Szymon Brzoska's beautifully-performed score keeps a constant connection to the visual action as the energies build and ebb together.

Towards the closing of the work there is a sense of reconcilliation, or conclusion, though quite from what has never been abundantly clear.


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BalletLORENT: Rapunzel



BalletLORENT's monumental debut performance at Sadler's Wells saw Rapunzel sell out with an audience of over 2000 people over the weekend.

Rapunzel unravels a fascinating and multilayered journey through a well-loved tale and is more akin to the Grimm original. What is different about this version is that it explores the husband and wife's story alongside that of the Witch, Rapunzel and the Prince. Artistic Director and choreographer Liv Lorent became interested in the fate of the husband and wife who lost their child and so there is a sense of their story throughout. This production brings together an award-winning team of collaborators, who do not disappoint, including composer Murray Gold (Doctor Who), costume designer Michele Clapton (HBO’s Game of Thrones), and poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy. There was also an inspiring cast of eight professional dancers and eleven non-professionals.

The choreography and direction by Liv Lorent chimes well with the other strands of the production, capturing the essence and intensity of the characters. At one point, Rapunzel jumps up and down repeatedly: this perfectly translates her teenage frustration at being constrained, and the idealised images of parenthood is excruciatingly beautiful. With meticulous timing and movement which appears effortless, the performers deliver in full. Gavin Coward and John Kendall as the creatures were especially engaging characters, bringing to life these 'prehistoric labradors', and one can only imagine the difficulty in moving with the weight of that hair. The scenario written by Carol Ann Duffy and retold by Lesley Sharp is clever and entrancing. The words set the scene and create epic imagery: the wife’s childlessness like " a planet without a moon ... an ocean without fish, … a tree in the orchard that bears no fruit”.

Murray Gold’s music is beautiful and penetrating, seamlessly punctuating the scenes and characters: Rapunzel's theme tune is a subtly haunting lullaby, while the Witch’s exudes suspense and wickedness. Phil Eddolls does an impressive job with his set, and this works together with Malcom Rippeth’s lighting to conjure extraordinary images. In the second half, the Witch and Prince are projected in quadruple in dark shadows on the backdrop, one of the many mesmerising visuals. Michele Clapton’s costumes are brilliant: mythical creatures, hooped skirts and a simple medieval feel which contrasts well with the ravishing reds in the set, lighting and Rapunzel’s hair. A nice touch was the design on the material of entwined branches and roots, exemplifying the flawless meshing of the different production elements.

BalletLORENT’s Rapunzel was part of Sadlers Wells’ annual two-day Family Weekend festival this easter and offered activities based on the themes of the production before and after the show. Anna Bruder, an artist involved in creating the themed art work in foyers said that it helped children relate to the darker characters and plot. This added a more immersive and interactive tone and dancers even mingled with youngsters during the intervals. That and the high quality choreography created with the non-professional dancers, illustrates balletLORENT's commitment to involving the community and the next generation of talent in their work at a meaningful level - an exceptional production and company for dance and non-dance audiences alike.


There will be further performances of Rapunzel at Oxford Playhouse on 5 & 6 April; for details and booking, please visit


You can read Zoe Parker's interview with Liv Lorent about her work and this production of Rapunzel here:


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Tom Dale Company



People often become accustomed to the dance companies which form their regular diet, which allows certain gems to slip through their would-be nets, and Tom Dale is one such gem. A British Council artist, a resident company at Dance4 (Nottingham), a DanceDigital (Essex) Associate Artist and a Déda (Derby) Associate Choreographer, it's little wonder his company only passes through London fleetingly, with just two tour dates planned: 19 and 20 April at Laban Theatre.

Refugees of the Septic Heart is more than just a dance show. A collaboration with composer Shackleton, it's a concept album with a concept-based narrative brought to life through Tom Dale's choreography, Barret Hodgson's digital arts and Kate Unwin's set design. The result is an exquisite feast for the senses which tantalises the audience for the hour of its duration - and in the case of the opening night audience, stunning them into silence for the postshow Q&A.

The set consists of blocks, apparently scattered randomly, with a disc at their centre and screens above. As the piece starts - preceded by a curtain-raiser skilfully performed by MOTUS (dancers from Birmingham Ormiston Academy) - digital projections cover both floor and set with gridlines, dots and blurry sections, which almost hide the dancers when they appear.

The digital projections skillfully change the set in each scene, from a futuristic apocalyptic setting - accentuated by Shackleton's music - to a tense everyday scene of office windows and characters dressed for work, exuding  consternation and apprehension. A lone character, Hugh Stainer, seeks to distract them by holding up a cardboard sign "Out of time"; the dancers respond by creating tableaux of their bodies around him, while in response to his sign, the music becomes more agitated, and the dancers' movement becomes more rushed.

The true wealth of Refugees of the Septic Heart, though, is in the movement: Tom Dale creates beautiful movement which is a rare joy to watch. Also a joy to watch are Tom Dale's talented dancers, who capture his ideas perfectly: the unique lithe gracefulness, with shifts in dynamics between utter stillness and fast-paced fluid movement, helping to drive the piece forward. It's rare to watch slow movement performed with such effectiveness and control, and even rarer still to watch such an accomplished collaboration between score and choreography, to the extent that both appear to be deftly taking their cues from each other, and the choreography drawing on the voiceover.

Refugees of the Septic Heart is a very rich work, with the audience being taken on a journey by Tom Dale into a futuristic world where existential themes are explored, as is the notion of an end game. It's a feast for the senses, and one to savour every moment of.


Further tour dates are:
Thurs 28 March: Pavilion Dance, Bournemouth

Tues 16 April: Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham

19 – 20 April: Laban Theatre, London



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In conversation with Liv Lorent

“For me, the quest is to emotionally move someone rather than impress or perplex them”. 

Having been totally mesmerised by balletLORENT’s latest show Rapunzel, Zoe Parker finally caught up with choreographer/director Liv Lorent, and here is what she had to say.

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bgroup: 'Just As We Are'



Recently cited in the Metro as one of the 'Top 5 in Demand Dance-Makers' (, and currently working on projects with English National Opera and the West End's 'Privates On Parade', as well as being a Place Prize semifinalist in both 2008 and 2012, it's safe to say there was a great deal of anticipation and even hype around Ben Wright's latest offering from his own company, bgroup.

The anticipation transferred onto the smoke-filled, red-lit stage at The Place, as two men in white lab coats surveyed the audience, then asked one woman ("you in the orange top") to join them onstage.

Positioned in front of a projector, a sequence of words flash up across her torso ('horny', 'inhaling', 'frequently hungry', 'spiritual', 'a lover', 'a liar') as four carefully-articulating bodies shift towards her. As a quintet, they move through the blank space, shifting weight and relationships to a soundtrack of heavy breathing and not much else.

There are sinister attempts to strangle, kiss and paw at the woman in the orange top - who is, in fact, dancer Allison Ahl. The group surges around Ahl as their pivotal point, and an absorbing tension builds as she is playfully thrown, deftly caught, and tickled.

A mechanical soundtrack serves as a well-placed accompaniment to these seemingly intentionally fragmented sequences that move expertly in and out of structured moments of unison. Focus shifts occasionally to others, and an angst-ridden Robert Clarke shouts from the floor before stripping off from the waist down, perhaps a step further than necessary in this otherwise cleverly subtle composition.

The dancers continue to shift in Wright's signature effortless movement style through many mini-climaxes, a pattern which is consistent throughout the work, lacking in a sense of constant building.

A continuous spiralling leads the four to gradually leave Ahl centre stage in a soft spotlight, gradually turning, arms aloft, to the heartwarming sounds of Louis Armstrong's 'What a Wonderful World'.

Exposing something very human within his performers is where Wright's direction excels, and 'two of us' (a duet for Lise Manavit and Michael Barnes, originally commissioned for the 2012 Place Prize) is a great example of this.

A contorting, pulsating, caressing Barnes is joined in the soft centre stage spotlight by Manavit's ever-powerful grace. As they intertwine in and out of each other's space, the large expansive material is interspersed with small, well-placed isolations. The two dancers magnetise closer and closer, and pianist Jon Byrne breaks the silence which had engulfed them until now.

The bare brightly-lit stage plays host to unashamedly beautiful choreography, and it's as if we're witnessing two people's private connection, until they filter away and the stage refills with red-lit smoke. The concluding section of 'Just As We Are' is 'all of us': originally 'This Moment is Your Life' for the 2008 Place Prize.

Still in his lab coat, and along with the rest of the cast and a 70's twist, Robert Clarke commandingly explains the experiment that is about to happen, to address the 'self - centred individualism' that makes people not want to risk appearing foolish. All five performers call for fifteen volunteers (again the word is explained), all of whom are given 70's attire and taught disco moves on a loop. The glitter ball, costumes, disco curtain, charisma of all on stage, and disco glasses given to the audience all work fantastically to create an infectious, raucous atmosphere that reminds us that dance is, and should be fun.

In 'Just As We Are', bgroup have achieved a brilliant equilibrium between insightful, challenging choreography, and accessing and entertaining our basic human nature. And of course, to quote one audience member, 'Life is so much better through disco glasses'.

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DeNada Dance Theatre

Certainly one of the most inventive and original works to be shown in this year's Resolution! at The Place as Carlos Pons Guerra's Young Man!, inspired by Jean Cocteau's Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, which was famously adapted for ballet by Roland Petit. Pons Guerra relocates the story to Spain, with simmering passions, lusts - and a truly unforgettable ham.


Leeds-based artist Pons Guerra has been invited to perform Young Man! at Sadler's Wells on Friday 15 March as part of the opening of the London Flamenco Festival. You should absolutely go see him. If you can, that is.

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Scottish Dance Theatre



I think it's safe to say that I am, at the best of times, extremely gullible. And I know this. But in 'Second Coming', the opening of Scottish Dance Theatre's double bill, they truly had me, and I'm fairly sure everyone around me, hook, line and sinker.

From a bare stage, house lights still up, with dancers milling around in warmup mode, we were told that there was a water leak and a consequent electrical fire backstage the previous evening. That they'd only been able to enter the space an hour previously and to allow the technicians time to set up, the dancers would simply demonstrate raw movement material from the choreographic process.

The dancers take to the stage, filtering in and out, deftly executing swift and everchanging movement sequences, creating a relaxed and intimate environment.

We're then told of a dancer being injured the previous night, and an exchange begins between technicians, setting up standing lights and shouting over the dancers; only now (despite the brilliant acting skills of Scottish Dance Theatre's technical team!) did I start to smell a rat. With a lighting state now in place, all eight performers move through a pulsating unison phrase, with solos and trios breaking out and becoming skilled and slick moments of confrontation or unity.

There is a delightful tension throughout this work, fuelled by the scratched, fragmented soundscore working against the everfluid movement material.

The charade of disastrous occurances continues and we're told that "the choreographer was fired - it got ugly". The charming sincerity with which Joan Cleville delivers this information is hilarious. He begins to demonstrate his solo ("the best till last"), and is increasingly interrupted by the wrong music, and by Jori Kerremans and Nicole Guarino. The solo becomes a duet, which becomes a trio, a slapstick, comedic, manipulative struggle for the limelight. These performers are masters of their craft, and maintain the intimate connection to each other and the audience, with a sense of constant communication throughout.

With nothing ever quite concluding, Matthew Robinson enters for a rant about choreographers' fixation with breaking down the fourth wall: "is this trying to be conceptual?!" he pleads, and is soothed and dragged ("cue the sappy music!") and once again manipulated throughout the space.

In 'Second Coming', choreographer Victor Quijada has succeeded in creating a sensitively selfaware and captivating work with incredibly-exectuted movement, sporadic violence, charming humour and satisfying unity sprinkled pleasingly throughout.

Jo Strømgren's 'Winter, Again' offers a juxtaposition to the previous work, whilst still utilising Scottish Dance Theatre's dancers' impeccable skill impeccably well. Through a screen of dirtied white paper panels, they appear and disappear, performing brilliantly overegged balletic parody movement. These surreal characters are seen mourning the loss of a number of dead birds, creeping surreptitiously with guns, wringing and clasping hands and discovering equally loving and threatening relationships.

With spine-tingling proficiency, Natalie Trewinnard enters with bandaged and bloodied eyes, whilst Maria Hayday, spoon in hand, seeks her next victim whose eyes to add to her small tin box.

Alongside the cleverly accomplished humour of 'Winter, Again', there is a bleak and somewhat sinister feeling to the work, as a voiceover narrates the meaning of winter - "hides the guilty" - and Natalie Trewinnard covers hers hands in the blood that has been relentlessly dripping into a tin bucket downstage left.

Shifting unison work, a dead deer being dragged through the space, and fleeting nudity are woven through the movement of this piece, working cohesively to create an environment that seems happy to remain somewhat unexplained, satisfyingly so.

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Franko B


There is no question of artist Franko B’s gift for generating live imagery of almost alchemical imagination. The conception and arrangement of Because of Love Volume 1 are striking in themselves; but it is the performance – in which he brings to bear his neutral, cohering presence and consummate, wordless candour – which finally endows this work with its uniquely moving qualities.

He arrives on stage in sandshoes, white singlet and shorts as the back wall flickers with a montage of political conflict, sparing us neither war atrocities nor anodyne Fifties' ads. No dancer, he paces, jogs, stands. The images pass with minimal comment from his body, and when they cease, we are sunk in a silence which  dominates much of the rest of the show.

Franko B presents himself in poses of stark simplicity, colonising the audience with his gaze. He draws a line on a blackboard and permits us to ponder it for a good five minutes; he stands on profile, staring into the wings for five minutes more. That the audience is palpably captive is a testament to some uncanny truth about human presence, his lightness of touch, and an almost metaphysical wisdom in letting time and space speak for themselves. He is a performer you trust absolutely, immediately, for his unadorned vulnerability. No pretense here.

As he kneels and draws a length of cotton chord from across the stage, the piping song of a child reveals fragmented episodes from his ‘autobiography’. Each one comes as a sudden surprise, and what is literally personal, or vicarious, or ‘appropriated experience’, is both unclear and of no final importance. All is deeply felt, and shared.

As he repeatedly lies and rolls off a table, hot water bottle flopping and dropping beside him, life has sent him tumbling, it seems. He cannot get comfortable, and the mood of the piece cradles discomfort, saturates it in awareness. Discomfort is the fact it presents without horror, and with this comes the immediate, paradoxical effect of soothing and union.

Franko B knows how to range beyond humanity, too. The plight of a hapless space dog unfolds as a stretch of eclectic magic, in all its unsuspecting innocence, oblivion and lonely adventure. There are taxidermised fox heads too. He chooses animals that are troubled and severed, in danger somehow. Consider the ten-foot polar bear: a remote-controlled robot and the show’s magnetic centerpiece. One wonders by what arbitrary force it assumes archetypal resonance, but it does. The performer’s communion with it peaks in a dance to a stuttering, ultimately carnivalesque piano piece by Othon, two figures reconciling a hinted absence in their mutual colour of amnesiac white.

Hailed as a departure from previous work, Because of Love Volume 1 brings life’s intimate pain and strangeness to the stage and transmutes it, with a universalizing gaze, simplicity, acceptance and reassuring calm.


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Verve, Northern Contemporary Dance School's postgraduate dance company, celebrates the lithe vitality and youthful enthusiasm of professional dancers at the dawn of their careers. The program is varied, presenting pure movement, conceptual and theatrical pieces, using a wide mix of sound from classical to popular culture. Mark Baker and Luke Hayward’s lighting design is a striking and complimentary feature throughout.

Conceptually, the strongest piece of the evening, Night Time, was choreographed by Frauke Requardt.

Smoke fills the stage as one dancer is held in the air reaching toward a single beam of light. Right away, this sets up a world of wistful innocence. Duets pass through passages of luminosity, and picture frames of tenderness as the dancers momentarily brush cheeks. Movement is precise and uncluttered, with symbiotic fluidity, heightened by Valentina Golfieri’s costuming. Delicate lace and wafting chiffon merge together, offering different nuances as the light bounces from one material to another.

Midway through, the dancers pull, tug and fling one another, alerting us to a more subversive darker world. Textures shift to leathers and lace, wild flying hair, ganglike groupings and more intricate and sharp gestural movement. The tone is now controversial: heavy, languid sounds pump out the beat and become progressively drunken, discordant and crashing until eventually the world disappears, the image of youthful innocence is fleeting.

Six dancers ‘make their bones’ in Angus Balberine’s surreal theatrical delirium, Instructions to the Animal. Film noir tinged with David Lynch, the piece opens with a darkly-lit stage silhouetting a man in a cowboy hat. Satin red shoes are tossed on stage, suggesting a macrocosm that is the antithesis of the Wizard of Oz, without wishes or rainbows. A dancer gesticulates ironically, saying “I want this place to sparkle”. Long black gloves are repeatedly taken on and off, ecstatically happy smiles suggest desperately that ‘the show must go on’: There are small references to Rita Hayworth throughout.

Dancers pose, in an ever-advancing charade of oneupmanship; cinematic tableaus ravel and unravel, moving from sinister to euphoric. A dancer asks us in Italian and then in English, “Is there a God?”

Shamran Nazeri and the F**k Buttons twin eastern dirge with metallic propulsive sounds which surge to euphoric crescendos. The action builds to hysteria and extreme oddity with sections of more frenzied and thrusting movement. Meanwhile, a dancer parades in a scarlet satin dress as red light fills the stage, leaving the audience free to get lost in this chaotic, beguiling piece.

Spoken words are at times inaudible due to a lack of projection but the desperate need to be somebody – to ‘sparkle’ still resonates. In the words of Rita Hayworth: ”You have to have that little statue in Hollywood, or else you`re nothing!

James Wilton’s Resurgence is an athletic and well-crafted pure movement piece, set to a soundtrack of chanting music from Om. Steady, weighty, deep bass vibrations palpate the space. Quick movements harness power and speed and complex choreography amplifies the physicality of seven dancers as they embrace the exciting yet smooth quality of Capoeira. In a myriad of duets and trios, they chase and pull one another into challenging sequences of lifts, rolls and reaches: diving, spinning and hurling themselves around the stage, breakdancing into inverted spins.

The meaning of this work is puzzling, as dancers look downward at points and one dancer deliberately closes his eyes. The reason for this never emerges. On the whole, Resurgence extends impressive movement material, but it is hardly cutting-edge.

Choreographed by Ben Wright, Shuffle is a light hearted play on the word shuffle: a randomized order of events, a mashup of songs and clothing. Featuring a relatable playlist of mainly pop songs including Peggy Lee and Deelite, the full company proceeds in a disorderly way, clothed in unmatching apparel, exploring different formations, games, and dance movement.

Superficially quirky and entertaining, but ultimately flawed, the choreography, like the word ‘shuffle’, is unspecific, unconsidered and aimless. Much of the movement is unresponsive, and does not fully match, or oppose the music; frustratingly, there are moments of potential which are not realised. This may be a conceptual tool but ultimately the scattered result is not compelling.

The company of dancers are impressively vibrant and skilful as an ensemble. They cope well with complex material and demonstrate versatility, precision and admirable technique. A choreographic rework of all pieces earlier in the day, due to two injured dancers, saw slight hesitancy during some unison material in the first piece but this is understandable; Danilo Caruso, in particular, shows fierce commitment as an accomplished performer. Lovers of mainstream contemporary dance will not be disappointed.

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Double Act at Yorkshire Dance

Woody Allen said that ‘If you are not failing now and again, then you are probably not doing anything innovative’. Thankfully, Yorkshire Dance’s Friday Firsts provides just such an opportunity for choreographers and audiences alike: the chance to experience new and experimental choreography up close and personal.

This particular evening, Double Act, curated by Beth Cassani, explores, provokes and romps with the idea of ‘couplings’, starting with Intercourse, a ‘performative’ solo devised by Louise Ahl. The main focus of this piece is the concept, investigating the relationship between artists, critic and audience, the conclusion of which was a likening of this interaction to sexual intercourse.

Intercourse starts with the performer walking inelegantly toward the audience wearing a Greek tragic mask. There are three chairs which she then proceeds to arrange into various different spatial patterns, presumably a metaphor for the relationships between audience, critic and artist, bringing to mind the Jungian enactment of ‘ego’ and ‘self’. This short section segues into a screen projection of words telling us the explicit things which this performance will do, including ‘coming all over (our) face’. This section is mildly engaging.

What then follows is a monotonous solo, minus the mask, to a single repetitive beat. This climaxes with screams, orgasms, and guttural retching sounds – a comment on how audiences and critics throw up on performers? Ironically, there was a distinct lack of interaction between performer and audience. The material was repetitious, disengaging and although the orgasm section, for obvious reasons, was more exciting, Meg Ryan did it much better.

Perhaps it would be worth Louise really pinning down the intention of this work and consider actually engaging with the audience. As a member of the audience, this was lacking and was aggravating. Intercourse did instigate a much-needed dialogue in the post-show talk about performers, audiences and critical thinking, however, given that it became clear in this discussion that Ahl, in her own words, dislikes most choreography and does not value critical thinking in the form of reviews, one wonders why this would be the main subject of her research. It feels like a narrow perspective to start with.



Young Man! is a smouldering and gutsy remake of Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, which was famously brought to life by Roland Petit in 1946. A daunting task, perhaps, but Carlos Pons Guerra does this with considerable aplomb and this intense version is sweetly brutal, cleverly blurring the lines of gender.

Having found a couple of spectacular women which even Pedro Almodóvar would have found dramatically pleasing, we see their relationship play out amongst kitschy Spanish music, garlicky sweat, plenty of wrestling and a sizeable leg of authentic "jamón".

The opening, which mirrors that of the original, sees Sabrina Ribes Bonet lying on a table smoking a cigarette, with smoke lingering in the air. The rest of the stage is bare, apart from two red chairs and the chorizo she bites chunks out of while looking across the room. This dramatically sets the scene as feisty Victoria de Silva arrives on stage - and all hell breaks loose.

Beautifully visualized, their duet is executed with dexterity using the props in inventive and suggestive ways. The dancers wrestle each other in rolls, balances and lunges, and much of their intertwining takes place on the floor; one taunts the other, pouncing with matadorial virility. The balance of power flips back and forth and much like the first piece, we see very graphic simulations of the sexual act, but this time in movement rather than sound.

This unraveling dance is mesmerizing to watch, though the plot beyond the tussle of a torrid affair is less clear. Thus the ending which included the use of white powder, a lighter, a spoon to mime ‘shooting up’ seemed rather unconvincing and left me a little bemused, and those unfamiliar with the original story - which sees the death of the lead dancer at the end - might feel baffled. That said, Young Man! is an impressively meaty piece of work by DeNada Dance Theatre, showing us that Carlos Pons Guerra has sizeable balls alongside his large ‘jamón’.


Ryan is a quirky gin-and-tonic of dance comedy celebrating the underappreciated genius of Tom Hanks. Devised and performed by Oliver Bray and Rachel Krische, it is a collision of Fred and Ginger with Laurel and Hardy, and like all the great duos, Bray and Krische have that certain ‘je ne sais quoi’.

Bursting onto the stage with panache, they mix spoken word, song and dance and give true Oscar-winning performances. With a convincing crooner style, Bray works the audience, asking individual people to share their dreams, each of which he connects to a ‘Hanksism’. This direct interaction with the audience is very refreshing, immediately breaking the dysfunctional relationship alluded to in the first piece of the night. What bridged that gap further was the use of first names when talking to the sound technician, and to one another.

Unpretentious is the word which springs to mind: Bray has a charming yet masterful delivery. In one hilarious moment, Bray announces to us that he is “the best dancer in the world’ as he raises his foot effortlessly past his groin. The ridiculousness of this has a similar effect to Dawn French’s impersonation of Darcey Bussell. Krische, too, is a classy performer, having worked for companies such as La Ribot and Deborah Hay: she has assured ease, individual style and technical grace. Indeed, Rachel has that same likeable quality which got Tom Hanks his first ‘Big’ break.

Ryan has the potential to be a genius piece of theatre but Bray and Krische still need to find their true jeté. Is there a deeper comment they wish to make? Is a deeper comment necessary? These are some of the questions to explore. What is for certain though, the development of this work will be a riproaring affair to remember.


Donald Hutera recently said that good writing is in the ‘rewriting’, and the same can be true for choreography. We need to create more spaces like Friday Firsts for experimental work to be seen so that artists can create, receive critical feedback without feeling ‘lashed to the boards’ if it tanks. In the words of the illustrious Tom Hanks, “If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it; hard is what makes it great!”

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Jasmin Vardimon: Freedom



What does it mean to be free? Can we only define freedom by its absence?  ”We have to fail the experience of freedom to be able to recreate it” said Jasmin Vardimon, when talking about her latest work Freedom. These ironic contrasts are prevalent throughout this intriguing, if indulgent exploration of all that is, and is not freedom. The structure of the piece is episodic, with a series of different characters, whose stories eventually collide. As typical for this company, the piece melds voice, theatricality, movement and technology. It is hedonistic and intoxicating. The opening landscape immediately transports us to an ecological, prehistoric dreamland: a recycled jungle suspended over the stage. There are clusters of floating lights that bring to mind the ‘Naavi’ from Avatar. One performer climbs a moving leafy mass that then delightfully disintegrates into the floor. It is a promising beginning.

The set is intricate and versatile: one moment a forest, next extensions of a dancer's arms, then revolving as if ‘the passing of time’. The choices in music work well, from driving pumping tracks to more natural sound, with popular cultural inserts, most notably the wistful sounds of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s Over the Rainbow and John Lennon’s Imagine. The video animations by Jesse Collett are clever and highly entertaining. This mix of media and dance is engaging and one of the signature trademarks of the long-term collaboration between Jasmin Vardimon and Guy Bar-Amotz.

As we would expect from this company, the vibrancy of the movement is exciting: physically-demanding choreography which requires buckets of strength, stamina and energy. The dancers launch through space, flinging their bodies into the air and to the ground, contrasting with moments of exquisite and detailed gestures. One duet was entirely hypnotic and conjured images of sea organisms undulating in deep oceans. Through the piece, the six dancers are shackled, ravaged and devoured, as if trapped in their own 'Jungle Reality' nightmare: one moment being eaten by rapid dogs, next kicked in the face, or having their wrists bound. They explore bold contrasts both imagined and real in a variety of inventive vignettes: characters entwined in 'free' love, tangled ballerinas stomping and screaming, and best of all, a skit with a human surf board.

At points though, the movement sequences are repetitive without adding any new ideas, and some of the scenes are over-indulgent, which sometimes leaves the audience ahead of the plot and looking at their watches. Having said that, there are moments of delicious melodrama which strike a bittersweet chord. These serve to revive the important subject of this production, and beg the question - can we handle being free? Do we actually need boundaries to feel safe? Despite misgivings, Freedom is a poetic work of technically challenging physical theatre; undeniably accessible and socially relevant.


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Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Vollmond



Two men enter holding empty water bottles. They proceed to calmly, deliberately swipe their arms through the air in unison, the bottles creating a low, rhythmic whoosh as they do so. A third man joins them, swinging a wooden pole to the same rhythm and adding texture to the simple soundscape. In this opening section, the repetition of vignettes underscores the sense of rhythm and ritual that the men set up.

This is Pina Bausch’s Vollmond (2006), with Peter Pabst’s iconic boulder looming with possibility from the start. There is also water. Lots of water. But this doesn’t feature until later. It is only when a performer splashes through the central strip, which has until then been kept in shadow, that the water makes its presence known, adding another layer to the soundscape. By this point, the performers have made several of their characteristically witty, sardonic observations to the audience and there has been a variety of music, but the live soundscape created by the water and the performers’ use of various objects (more bottles, lots of wineglasses) remains a constant thread through the work. It gives Vollmond a richness and cohesiveness, and is key in Bausch’s successful creation of a self-contained world.

This is real strength of Vollmond: despite seemingly disparate elements and what can sometimes feel like disjointed snippets of eccentricity, the world the characters inhabit is distinct. It is not present from the start: the world emerges slowly, subtly developing as the work progresses. Bausch does not over-rely on sets or props to set up the world (despite the conspicuous presence of both), but lets it emerge through the characters’ actions and relationships. It is a palpable world, whether or not individual moments resonate.

Not all moments do. There is a highly personal element at play: what one person finds amusing, another might find horrifying, another passé. But the large scope for individual response and interpretation in Bausch’s work is not always matched with a wide social scope; the fixed gender roles quickly start to feel limiting, and the scope for the portrayal of women seems particularly narrow. But how much of this is down to Bausch’s aesthetic? How much is critique?

The humour in Vollmond is characteristic of Bausch: there are dark sides aplenty, but there is also lightness, quirkiness, and hilarity. Often, witty text converts the slightly odd to the utterly absurd: a man splays himself across the boulder. A pause, then a shout: “it’s mine!”. A woman crawls across the stage, another character gradually draping her in pink cloth. “The Pink Panther,” he declares self-satisfactorily before exiting. Such moments, by taking what borders on the ordinary and making it extraordinary, bring the inherent absurdities of life to the forefront.

Numerous solos and duets allow glimpses into the psyches of different characters. Dominique Mercy’s solo resonates with particular power. When the rare ensemble section does occur, it is a welcome complement to the sparseness of the small groupings. Sometimes, the emsemble provides a moving landscape of bodies to offset a solo. In one such instance, the men glide back and forth, punting themselves urgently around the stage, completely overwhelming the lone female soloist. At other times the ensemble revisits motifs from the solos or duets, compounding their effect as the density of bodies takes the absurdities to more frenzied extremes.

The move from order to chaos becomes more extant as the work progresses. Admittedly, it was never an orderly order. Rather, an order with a sense of disorder, and this disorder magnifies as the work draws to its conclusion. As the two hour mark approaches the pace becomes more frenetic, and the characters revisit moments from earlier in the work. Traces of water and chalk are left on the stage as further evidence of past happenings. The energy builds and what was quirky becomes delirious as the breathtaking power of the performers and the water reaches new heights (literally). It is thrilling and exhilerating, bordering on the sublime. Awe mingles with disbelief as the performers are pushed to their limits, soaking wet and in the grip of an insanity. It is an insanity that makes me no longer want to be sane.

With nearly all of the house on their feet for a standing ovation, and the performers persuaded to return for a third bow, the audience’s response was almost as moving as Vollmond itself.


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Retina Dance Company

Retina Dance Company has been gearing up for the UK premiere of their latest work Corporalis, which took place tonight (19 February) at Nottingham Playhouse, with further tour dates to be confirmed. A work exploring architecture and dance, Corporalis uses Retina's signature physical and dynamic choreographic style, and reminding us why they're that cut above other dance companies.

At the end of last week, they put out a call on Twitter and Facebook for photographers to shoot their rehearsal the day before their premiere; seeing as I was in Cheltenham at the time (for a dance photography workshop, no less), it made perfect sense to travel to Nottingham to photograph them in rehearsal. The photos below are from excerpts of the work, as captured during their rehearsal.

The next performance of Corporalis will be at Déda in Derby on 19 April; for tickets and information, please visit

To find out tour dates near you, please visit (and revisit, as further dates get added)



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Refresh 2013



Mentor Kerry Nicholls has overseen a strong collection of works for this year’s Refresh. In keeping with the tradition, music suggestions from prominent choreographers were thrown into a lucky dip, from which another batch of choreographers drew and based their work with the six youth dance companies involved. Intervals between performances were filled with interview footage of the music selectors, musing on their own development and extolling the virtues of dance as a language in itself – inspiration for young, emerging dance artists.

First up was Nicholls’ own work with Shift, The Place’s youth dance company, entitled The Falling Room. It was a strong opening for this group of twenty-one dancers, distinguished by geometric composition in a lattice structure and effective use of synchronicity. Encounters occurred in duets and trios, with nicely calculated lifts and descents, extended limbs and articulated joints, firmly punctuated rhythms. With no infusion of conceptual content, this was a purely aesthetic response to the sound score by David Walters, but there was nothing lacking for this, it was a solidly realized piece.

In the program notes, Lucy Crowe admits to the challenge fate dealt her with Phillip Feeney’s Code: music dominated by choppy, rhythmic jazz piano and a primal, chugging feel. The group took it on quite daringly, with an interpretation of ‘threat’ that involved tattoos and wild hair, some impressive groundwork, capoiera-inspired contortions and spins, and a sporadic collective shout. There were rapid shifts in pacing between small, fast phrases and slow-melting pauses, giving a garbled and edgy feel. Aesthetically, they were heading toward a coherent response but didn’t quite arrive at a point of final refinement; the performers were too wonderfully rounded and human to convey a genuine sense of threat.

ENB YouthCo’s Tribe had a subtler vision, appropriate to the electronic music by Flying Lotus, chosen by hip-hopper Jonzi D. The bird-or-insect-like embodiment was nicely echoed by faint birdsong early in the piece before the sound took on further layers of electronic complexity. Ensemble configurations were of the essence, with the group starting in unison and then breaking up to find fleeting duets and trios. Exits and entrances were constant and inventive, engagements building and dispersing rapidly throughout. But the overall character of the piece was subtle, and the bland costumes did little to counter this. Nonetheless, the overall trajectory of spatial dynamics had a pleasingly fractal feel of organised chaos, and this was beautifully resolved in the stray, single figure of the ending.

A winning jocularity was brought to the lineup with Again and Again, Fuzzy Logic’s response to Bawren Tavaziva’s original composition, under Zoie Golding’s choreography and theatrical vision. The all-male cast of seven was the smallest of the evening but made up for it with their bright waistcoats, robust and rounded moves, and leapfrog-style lifts and flips. There was also deft work with slippery props. The piece began with a short sequence of grounded partnerwork before the surprise arrival of the group’s final member, who emerged suddenly, disgruntled, front-and-centre stage, from under a pile of orange plastic bags. This led to the unpacking of further bags in a grid formation, the bags acting as stepping stones for a sequence that spoke of fixation and safety. Then followed a hyperreal segment depicting the extreme responses to a newly opened letter. The final image was of cut-out letters hung on a string and held between two dancers as the others puzzled over them in quasi-simian drollery, the final choice teased out being OCD. It was a fun ending to a piece that explored our twitchy and fractious side, but embedded in plenty of warmth, curiosity and humour.

Quicksilver’s The Disappearance of Elsie May carried on the concern with the human mind, but with a pastel costume palette and lightfooted, hushed-and-muted feel, which was apposite to choreographer Laura Harvey’s choice of theme: dementia. The choreographic response here moved in sensitive relationship to the sound score Theory of Machines by Ben Frost, with its building layers and cadences which ranged from serene to rasping and severe. Again, ensemble composition was significant, beginning in symmetry and fragmenting significantly, with duets and trios to follow. An overall sense of distance yet poignancy was admirably achieved, culminating in an exquisite ending of symmetrical mirroring between two female dancers. The absence of drama and sentimentality were powerful as one dancer succumbed to internal withdrawal, and the other, not succeeding in coaxing her out, backed off and moved away.

Drawing the night to a nicely swaggering conclusion was The Beauty Within, by Sia Gbamoi, Dani Harris-Walters and PPL Dance Company, whose fortunes were set by Goomba Boomba, a mambo now twenty-five years old. The poetic prelude to the music was charming and natural, as the group’s lounging and daydreaming gave way to distorted mannerisms, chatter, bopping heads and shoulders. Then they swung into movement that was not at all mambo but had something of its sinuosity and torso-driven style, with undulations and grounded hips. Grotesque imagery was well engendered by wobbling necks and a technique of rapid and repeated freeze and release in the lines of movement, which provided a stroboscopic effect. This darkness was perfectly judged beneath the music’s buoyant pulse.

Aesthetically this was the most pronounced and successful of the night’s shows, demonstrating the rich possibility that exists when random elements meet in the melting pot that is Refresh.


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Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Two Cigarettes in the Dark



‘Why don’t you come in, my husband is at war’ bids Mechthild Grossmann, one of the original cast members (alongside Dominique Mercy) in Two Cigarettes In The Dark, originally created in 1985. Standing at the footlights in a voluminous ball gown, her majestic pose and weighty tone instantly alludes to dejected relationships and small-time affairs.

Striking stage design from Peter Pabst sets the mood further: a white room with numerous doors and hidden stairs, completed with a tropical garden, cacti and aquariums seen through its three windows. Its excessiveness conjures an image of opulence and decadent parties of the early 20th century. The cast dressed in ball gowns and black-tie stagger through their interactions in a series of vignettes which illustrate their disjointed relationships. They are like guests that have never left and years later are still wandering through the house conducting their affairs and avoiding their own reality.

Present are the familiar themes synonymous with Pina Bausch's work: gender-inflicted relationships, emotional dependence and social stereotypes. There are manipulative, self-important men and hapless obedient women: a man dragging a woman to a puddle on the floor, screaming at her as if training a puppy, before she obediently pulls her underwear down in the corner he points to. There is vulgar sex, and nudity, and screaming, all of which feels integral, and sardonic humour.

Comical moments and gestures here are executed melancholically, with heads hung low and at a tempo which is slightly too slow to be funny; instead, it underscores the absurdity, meaninglessness and resignation of the characters' existence. Mercy enters wearing a ball gown and the audience giggles, but he walks slowly, in dim light, his gaze tracing the floor, and it begins to feel like escapism – being somebody else, so as not to face himself.

The cast in Two Cigarettes are magnificent as ever, breathing every cell of their character and there is not a moment of doubt in their sincerity. The stunning set completed beautifully with lighting design and ever-perfect music score do not disappoint.

However the lengthy vignettes are too disjointed at times, and the themes feel less defined than in some of Bausch’s other work. As the piece entered its third hour, is it really necessary to watch Michael Strecker spray paint himself white for quite so long? If only Bausch was a tad more selective in her editing. Yet as the evening ends with Bing Crosby’s Two Cigarettes In The Night the prevailing emotion is admiration for Bausch’s sense of humour and sensitivity to life.


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Resolution! The Twin Factory, Wrecking Ball Dance Company, Off The Map

The last night of Resolution! 2013 offered three quite different works, but none really stood out.

The Twin Factory’s Geraldine and Me opened the night. Created and performed by dance and visual artists Rachel Champion and Linda Remahl, strong design elements constructed a consistent, effective aesthetic world for the performers to inhabit. It was a world vaguely Victorian in nature. Already on stage when the audience entered the auditorium, one performer paced back and forth in a black crinoline dress while the other stayed unseen, moving objects in and out of a pool of light in a manner reminiscent of a magician. In the opening vignette, the crinolined figure, Geraldine, frantically removed her complex clothing revealing a vividly red underskirt, then a white layer, until she stood in only a shift. Stripped down and exposed she was then repeatedly redressed by her fellow performer. The theme here was clearly one of identity, and from the nervous, anxious state suggested by her (slightly overacted) physicality, Geraldine seemed as uncertain of it as anyone.

Described as “a duet for one. A solo for two,” Geraldine was the focus. The other performer, dressed in black, skirted the lit areas to move props and costumes much like a stagehand, asking the audience to indulge in the illusionistic elements of traditional theatre. This relationship eventually shifted, but having the second performer take a more central role weakened some of the constraints set up in the first half of the piece: it confused rather than elucidated.

A breaking of the fourth wall interrupted the hyper theatricality of Geraldine and Me and saved it from becoming gimmicky. But despite the rich world created, the work did not provide a real sense of who Geraldine was. Perhaps this was the point. Or perhaps the ambiguity about this point was the point. Metaphysical questions aside, ultimately there was not enough to offer a connection with Geraldine and her plight.

Wrecking Ball Dance Company’s Even the Devil Has Demons sits somewhere in the murky depths of the commercial-street-contemporary crossover. The five performers dressed in black tracksuits and hoodies have attitude and personality. Hoods go down, hoods go up. Unusually, and refreshingly, the men outnumber the women, however the overly rigid traditional gender roles detract some of the interest from the movement.

The achievement of this piece is in its tightness; it was well-rehearsed, which is not something seen in every Resolution! group work. Conceptually, however, there is not a lot on offer. The program notes vaguely allude to demonic infiltration, but these come across as nebulous artistic pretensions rather than choreographic substance. Despite the adrenaline pumping movement and the use of some quality music, when all is said and done, Even the Devil Has Demons is not greater than the sum of its (albeit well-executed) parts.  

With the unusually large cast of nine dancers (for Resolution!), Off The Map's Iridescent was in some ways an ambitious undertaking. The unison sections in the first half were more or less tightly performed, with a precise movement vocabulary that drew the eye in interesting ways. One performer was singled out, and her solo in the middle of the piece was arresting. But her journey as a whole and her relationship to the group was not clear.

The second half of the piece was a disappointment. The unison sections were distinctly not in unison, and although the constraints of Resolution! can be challenging (most pieces are unfunded and are therefore short on time and rehearsal space), as the previous piece demonstrated, this does not always have to be the case. This is an example of recognising (or not recognising) your limits, and choosing whether to prioritise practicalities over vision. Except that the vision of the second half also went worryingly astray with an unfortunate lyrical turn to Linkin Park’s Iridescent. A melodramatic stillness - the nine dancers with their arms outstretched - exploded into a dance party punctuated by cringeworthy light bursts in time to the music: was this irony? Sadly not. In Linkin Park’s words, maybe choreographer Steve Johnstone should have ‘let it go’, or at least have kept these last moments confined to his kitchen.

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Resolution! HINGED, Camila Gutierrez & Fionn Cox-Davies, Cesilie Kverneland, The Nonsuch Dancers

Opening the programme with a refreshing blast of high energy and humour, Taira Foo’s Rainman depicted the story of two brothers, with a cast of eleven and suggestive of Matthew Bourne’s narrative shows. Their journey, complete with troubles and plights, was communicated sometimes a little crudely through evocative motifs, a backdrop of text, voiceovers and attempts at miming or acting which undermined the performance. An exploration of the potential of the movement vocabulary would allow the dancing to tell the story in its entirety, as it began to do in places, without the various other distracting methods. The large chorus often cluttered the stage and this was emphasised by the staccato isolations of the choreography which the dancers struggled to keep concise and in time.

Poignant moments where the brothers performed duets touched on the complex relationship between them, at one point almost becoming each other’s alter ego through weight-sharing, power-struggles and slipping in and out of unison. These sections, expanded and developed, could potentially guide the audience through their emotional journey as well as their physical one. The sensitive and emotional parts of the narrative felt too sudden and strained by the fast pace of the piece; attempting to convey an epic narrative within tight time constraints left it feeling rushed. The story unfolding more gradually would set a better provision for the audience to believe in the emotional triggers in the narrative.

Camila Gutierrez and Fionn Cox-Davies transformed the stage by removing the wings and revealing the sidelights to the audience. Musician Tomislav English delivered a percussive response to the Accomplices ahead of him in a calming and thoughtful play between two dancers, allowing the audience to recover from the highly emotive Rainman. Subtly suspending between lifts and falls, the pair engaged in playful competition, games of chase and spins which circled across the space. Although confidently performed, recontextualising contact improvisation into a rehearsed performance lost the element of risk and danger, preventing the piece from being anything other than a contact exercise. Although it appeared to be somewhat of a crowdpleaser on the night, rooted in movement and contact, it offered little else to uncover.

In (parentheses), a specially-commissioned piece for EDge, the postgraduate performance company of London Contemporary Dance School, six dancers seemed to ensnare the entire auditorium through their connection and focus alone. Brimming with power but never losing control of their dynamics, the colony of beings moved in response to each other throughout the piece. John Derek Bishop’s sound score evoked a tropical rainforest which the dancers seemed to inhabit. In a ritual of movement somewhere between flagellation and grooming, the commitment of the group engaged and almost transported me through a meditation from beginning to end.  The polish and professionalism of the work had a considerable impact on the night.

Witty, silly and outrageously flirty, The Nonsuch Dancers, led by Darren Royston, explored the social relationships that revolved around Tudor dancing in Rexussexus: Tudor Dirty Dancing. The constraints and restraints of the age revealed scandalous opportunities for touch, kiss and play during the act of dancing. Opening the piece as a lecture in the 21st century created a context from which the dancers could jump between different scenes and historical dances. Outstripping each other in the high kicks of the Galliard, or the speed of a sword fight to the stripping of clothes from their partner, the various scenes became disjointed throughout the performance by the multiple characters and musicians on stage, diverting attention from the coy moments of intimacy between the dancers. A more intimate environment focused on the interaction between the couples would evoke an atmosphere of sexual tension that the audience could engage in as a voyeur. As the Tudor outer garments were removed and spatial barriers were broken down, the dancers descended into an exciting, sexual frisson of historical and contemporary dance. At this point a more centrally-focused light would bring the audience’s attention to their physical relationships, illuminating the couple’s private world. A longer exploration of these relationships would allow the audience to indulge in the passions of Tudor life that mirror our own, while the tension between historical accuracy and its contemporary context will always inevitably exist in early dance. A showing of historical dance on the bill for Resolution! gave permission to create a work which exists in its own right in this century, an opportunity clearly grabbed by Royston that can be run with further.

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Resolution! Company Ben Abbes, Tamar Daly & Nicolette Corcoran, KAONASHI

In front of a quieter (but solid and supportive) audience than I've recently experienced at Resolution!, the night got underway with Company Ben Abbes' 'White Room'.

Presenting promising ideas on paper, this piece for five dancers dressed all in white seemed somewhat detached from such concepts as death, fear and loneliness which are mentioned in the programme notes. Instead, the choreography concerned itself more with carefully placed, all-too-familiar movement which unfortunately did not connect to its subject matter or audience.

Throughout the piece, sudden changes in lighting state serve to provide more structure to the space, as did the introduction of seemingly personal props such as a box of belongings, and a small hooded jumper. The piece ended after a duet between choreographer Cat Ben Abbes and dancer Daniel Kovacs, somewhat surprising the audience with the abruptness with which it finished.

More surprises were in store in the form of Tamar Daly & Nicolette Corcoran's charming and well-crafted 'Decode This'. In a fusion of vocals (spoken, sung and looped brilliantly) and quirky, shifting, twitching movements, they explore morse code, texting and love through coded messages.

Reminiscent at times of Protein's 'LOL (Lots of Love)' the piece had these two engaging performers embodying emoticons and telling simple but compelling tales of the text they received after 'last night' (winking smiley ;-) )

Amongst Kristina Hjelm's simple but effective linear lighting in the form of a large 'x', exchanges of glances between performers suggest there is an element of improvisation or chance to the movement together with the sound. No code needed: it works.

Four dancers take to the smoke-filled stage for the night's final work, Kaonashi's 'FADE'. A sequin-clad Katerina Toumpa moves to the beat that is to be a constant throughout the piece, the movement gradually building and devouring the space, watched by the three other exaggerated characters, fantastically made-up by Rebecca Jane Peebles.

Fast footwork and pulsating torsos take the four performers across the space, catching moments of unison and some of the personal journeys driven by the music.

Duets and interactions are frequent and aggressive, well executed by all; the piece succeeds in creating an environment, although it makes no attempt to explain it, nor does it apologise for the bizarre, as a penguin on an iceberg crosses the stage. And well it shouldn't, the bizarre is brilliant.

After a mesmerising solo from Chris Rook, moving fluidly and in staccato seemingly simultaneously, the piece ends on a somewhat thoughtful, melancholy note, a sadness perhaps at the end of what has been one big trip. And the penguin gets a bow...


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