Hold Everything Dear, Laïla Diallo's outstanding new work, starts at the end and opens with all of the eight performers sweeping polystyerene peanuts into suitcases, unravelling and stretching out a tangled yellow length of light bulbs, piano-wheeling, bench-moving and paper-picking-up until the stage is clear and everyone is set, focussing on the restricted body of Gabi Froden, on the floor, wrapped in packing tape, labelled FRAGILE. In presenting the end of their journey, the company invited the audience to see how they got there, to rewalk their journey with them.
Laïla described the work as 'episodic', and indeed it had the filmic quality of many scenes adding together to paint a whole. The transitions from scene to scene were seamless, gentle, clever, and at times witty, the energy never dropping, the change never jarring and a quiet confidence leading the whole proceedings. At times the musicians took the lead and at others the dancers, although often they worked together as one intelligent, creative, persevering body of people in transit.
The dance was developed initially from research about asylum seekers and refugees coming to the UK and struggling with the process of building a new home in a place where they were not at home. The programme notes describe the piece as having 'at its heart ideas of migration and dislocation. It is an attempt to convey something about leaving, arriving, letting go, holding dear – an attempt to say something about being forever in transit or in a state of waiting.' And so in each scene we see some glimpse of each of these things, some suggestion of that in-limbo state that is suggestive and evocative to the audience to see, recognise, open to.
There were several outstanding moments: the smoothness of the crowd walking to and fro across an airport departure/arrivals lounge/street/continent, and magically dropping individuals off on benches to create a photo, and another, and another, and another; the technical fluidity in this led to a few childlike moments of 'how is he holding her shoe? She was wearing it a split second ago...? Where did the cello come from? When did the benches move??'. Another was a centre-stage moment for composer Jules Maxwell, singing at his upright piano and having the whole company join him with various instruments: cello, ukelele, harmonica, triangle, flute and voice walking the piano around in a circle, spiralling the melody of their calm little ditty. Or Seke Chimutengwende singing mournfully into a microphone 'I get along without you very well, except in spring... but I should never think of spring because that would break my heart in two'
Theo Clinkard and Laïla Diallo performed a genuinely breathtaking tango duet: dangerous, potent and close. Of course there are as many stories to be read into a duet as there are people watching and the couple’s focus and energy amplified that storytelling to edge-of-the-seat heights.
And then the wonderful helping hands quintet, seemingly improvised around a structure, an intensely present scene of friendships, leaning posts, points of contact, anchors, things that give way. Performed attentively, strongly and gently.
To tell a list of outstanding moments is perhaps to retell the whole piece, so the following will be the last - Helka Kaski's solo leading her to a bench in the middle of the stage. Having been shown the ending at the beginning, it was with a terrible realisation that the audience watched Laïla, standing on the bench, raise a suitcase of polystyrene peanuts over her head and softly pour them over Helka's lost body, knowing that the piece would be ending soon. The audience had been given the gift of seeing into the future, knowing that the yellow lights needed to be tangled up and placed on the wheely trolley, that Gabi Froden needed to be wrapped up in packing tape, that the instruments all needed to be quietened and that the piece needed to end.
The piece is being toured through September, October and November in Bristol, Birmingham and Roehampton and you are strongly recommended to see it.