The Place has long been the home of experimental dance and performance art, so it was only fitting that the opening night of Spring Loaded featured experimental works by Darren Ellis Dance and Robert Clark. Both works were shown in their very early stages last summer at The Place as part of the post-Choreodrome showings Touch Wood, and both have benefitted from extensive research and development as part of their choreographic process.
Darren Ellis's Long Walk Home was an exploration of four women at different ages and different stages, ranging from mid-teens to 70, working with Linda Lewcock from Company of Elders; Lauren Potter, formerly of London Contemporary Dance Theatre, Siobhan Davies and DV8; Jo Wenger (ex-Richard Alston Dance Company), and a DanceEast Academy student, Mari Hullet.
The piece sought to explore the hopes of each woman, with information passing through the generations, and so we saw an extended solo by each woman before stepping aside for a younger or older dancer's physical soliloquy. The eloquence of each dancer was enhanced by the improvised feel of each solo, from Linda Lewcock's rocking of a child to Jo Wenger's anxious attempts to hitchhike. While much of the dancers's stories were obscure, their performances were captivating, especially the awkwardness of Lauren Potter's solo and the intensity of Jo Wenger's.
Potter presented a trapped, anxious figure, resembling a broken puppet with disjointed limbs, moving haltingly and hesitantly. Her solo was powerfully reminiscent of Frantic Assembly's Lovesong, in both the movement style and storytelling. The only duet of the evening was between Potter and Wenger, at the start of Wenger's section, which saw Wenger trying to copy Potter's movements, changing them to suit her own style once Potter had stepped out of the light. Wenger was the most compelling of the four dancers, especially in the way she kept her gaze focussed on the audience despite her frantic movements.
All four dancers were accompanied onstage by the astounding Askew Sisters, two women performing folk music on accordion and violin, with amazing vocals by Hazel Askew: beautiful music to accompany a beautiful piece.
Long Walk Home contrasted sharply with Robert Clark's Badlands, which was in theory an awkward love story set in '50s America with cinematic influences. But in the style of experimental dance, and indeed many dance works, what the audience saw was very different, and the lines between dance and movement were blurred. The piece opens with an endearing nervous introduction by Victoria Hoyland (of Van Huynh Company, Hofesh Shechter, Clod Ensemble and James Wilton) followed by a passionate kiss with Jake Ingram-Dodd, after which the two characters disconnect from each other and lose themeselves in their own worlds. He sings Elvis, she sprinkles flour on top of a toy house in lieu of snow, and she wills him to die because "she doesn't love him, they never fell in love". As one of them says at the end, "it's a shit ending."