The moment a bag of oranges drop and roll across the entire stage at the outset of this piece, you know you’re in for something a little different. Ieva Kuniskis's physical theatre piece Gone To Get Milk employs humour, mime and gesture with an accomplished dance vocabulary thrown in.
Three characters unfold before us, all of whom seem disillusioned with everything around them. Movement is inward, personal, rarely relating to the others on stage. The male dancer sat on a chair facing the back occasionally grabbing his foot, glancing around and placing it back down: inhibited, shy. The monotony and humdrum of the start soon shifts however, the performers beginning to travel throughout the space, dancing together in duets, smiles spreading on their faces. Mimetic gestures crop up occasionally, almost too sporadically, yet add to the humour of the work. A particular comic highlight is the partner dance between the male dancer and an orange stuck under his chin. Ballroom hold and all, he moves with the orange and repeats this in a duet with one of the female dancers, playing out a party game as they exchange the fruit chin to chin. This playful duet becomes intimate, as do the other duets and within a field of oranges Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges are not the Only Fruit springs to mind, sharing themes of there being more to life and breaking boundaries. A fun piece from a fun trio.
Joseph Toonga’s name is one I’ve seen dotted around the internet-space of dance artists for a while now, his previous work held in high regard by many, so my expectations for seeing Moments, Past were of course just as high. Fortunately, my expectations were more than met in this breathtaking ensemble work. A collaborative effort which saw contribution from the whole group, the five-piece enter tracing their way through the space. Musicality and fluidity are embodied as they move in unison, dipping along diagonal pathways. Moving first as a group, they then slip off into duets that are at times combative and at times complementary, drawing on a varied vocabulary. Contemporary and popping dominate, with a martial arts flair weaved in to the choreography, a particular highlight with the extreme back bends and arches: Matrix moments which would put Neo to shame. All the dancers' talents are perfectly tapped into, each one a stone skimming through a lake of choreography, with all the power of pebbles and all the grace of waves rippling outward. It’s a shame that these were Moments, Past. I look forward to seeing future moments with choreography such as this.
A diverse seven-piece group, B-Hybrid Dance are making waves in the contemporary dance world, performing at the Resolution! platform at The Place earlier this year. Their reputation preceded them, however it was a reputation not quite lived up to. Most of the first half of Foundations was rather stagnated, not necessarily a fault of the choreography but of the music choice swamping them; a risk you take when you pick something by a group that sounds as grandiose as ‘The Cinematic Orchestra’.
However the piece picks up as it nears the end – two tableaux standing out and demonstrating the relationship between the members of the group. Stood in a line downstage right, in canon they flick an arm over the shoulder of their neighbour, connected as one unit. They then execute a charming gestural sequence, hands to heart, elbows in air, dipping under each other’s arms. Near the end of the piece, a diagonal tableau sees each member linking again, each chaining to the next person with a different part of their body. They sway, back and forth, my moment of wanting to see more coming too close to the end.
I can envisage choreographer Brian Gillespie and B-Hybrid taking this to a community dance group; taking these Foundations and building them up to work on a larger scale could lead to something great.
I hate to use the word, but Ceyda Tanc Dance really have hit upon something unique with Volta. And before you start throwing out Christopher Bruce references, I am well aware folk dance, contemporary and the idea of imprisonment aren’t brand spanking new, but until you show me a dance that explores the respect and disrespect of a Turkish prison walking exercise, I’m sticking to my opinion.
Tanc brings together six females in this dramatic piece, developing this exercise into an accomplished dance work. Often as duets, the dancers pace across the stage, their measured militaristic steps laden with tension as they glare at each other with piercing eyes. These deathly stares move to the audience as well, commanding respect rather than appearing menacing and you watch on, fearful of what may occur if your eyes drift from theirs. It is an impressive display as Tanc plays with this idea of face to face rather than back to back, the duets often circling each other as they move. There is a stunning moment with all six low to the floor, three to a line. As they rise and fall, they stick to their own space, almost like Kylián’s Falling Angels, an impressive display of power. Set to a forceful score, Volta is daunting, demanding, yet dominating. One of my favourite pieces of the festival.
Joseph Toonga’s second piece of the night, Ours, is a duet which embraces vocabulary from popping and contemporary dance. This lyrical duet between Kenny Wing Tao Ho and Lucia Txokarro showcases the exceptional technical ability of the two dancers as they move between their own movements and sequences in unison. A harmonious display between the two dancers, they demonstrate the beauty in popping as ripples undulate through their arms and they flow out of barrel jumps. The extreme curves of their backs, present in Moments, Past, make a welcome return in this piece, the arches an unseen connection between the duo. It is a piece that is short but sweet, living up to the brief of the quote that it is based upon; “to the world you may be one person, but to one person you are the world.” A microcosm of what Toonga does best.
With war inevitably comes death and with our forever fast-paced modern lives, news stories of fallen soldiers aren’t always really heard. With Man Down, John Ross embodies the final moments of the life of an individual, drawing upon experiences from family and friends of a soldier lost in warfare. As a letter addressed to a family member of the fallen soldier is read aloud, a solitary male is seen kneeling in a circle of light. Written from the perspective of this soldier’s lieutenant, the work is framed as a reflective piece, the story about to unfold from the perspective of a comrade. As the words that are being read aloud stop, Ross begins to move, measured and considered at first as he gazes at his surroundings, vigilance taking hold. His hand shoots to his ear and his finger shoots in the air – listening for warnings, testing the wind. The finger in the air is repeated with more digits, which are slowly brought down in what appears to be an ominous countdown.
The piece picks up pace as our soldier begins to travel the space, athletic slides, leaps and rolls repeated and developed throughout. It is refreshing to see action in dance the way it is embraced in this work, our soldier really taking us on a journey. That is until, the shot. The sudden bang as the bullet hits his chest is shocking; we expect it and anticipate it, as foreshadowed by the letter, yet it still startles. Ross embodies this shock, hands to ears in a sombre reflection of this gesture earlier in the piece, blinking ferociously, looking around in disbelief. The cries of fellow soldiers, “Man down!” and “Where?!”, echo over and over in the closing moments of this piece, moments that see our soloist journey slowly through the stage, repeatedly falling and getting back up. His arm lingers behind him as he walks, yet when he comes to grab it to go back, he spins and continues on to his fateful end. This clutching on to life, the shock of what has happened is both poignant and tragic, but well enacted thanks to Ross’ touching choreography.
Raymond Chai is one of those choreographers who can pull off that most cringeworthy of buzzwords with his ‘signature’ choreography. His work with Ballet Black is a firm favourite of mine so Unbroken Silence carried with it high expectations. The duo of Melanie Lopez and Oliver Freeston embrace Chai’s choreography skilfully, performing a tender piece with real power and force. The first part of the piece is rather drawn out, a rare highlight being a turn where Lopez grabs Freeston’s elbows, circling into a lift which leads him to lower her between his legs as she slides herself to the ground. This use of fluidity really takes hold as the pair shift into a circle of light centre stage about halfway through the piece. After a brief moment of tension in this tight space, Lopez throws her arms into the air and silence falls over the stage. Freeston gently places his hands either side of her torso and she sways slowly from one foot to another, the side to side like a metronome; hypnotic, measured, calm. From here on, the fusion sensitivity, sensuality and frustration is perfectly blended; the duo like two magnets whose poles constantly switch. They repel and attract, attract and repel, two forces drawn to and from each other in this intimate piece.
A subject matter that is difficult to tackle, particularly in dance, Ella Mesma’s solo EvoL centres around unreported sexual assault and the clear but often tragically-unheeded difference between “Yes” and “No”. Stood in a square of light downstage left, Mesma first appears to us in low light. Her presence is barely visible, a reflection of the frequent inability to be seen or heard as a victim of violent crime. This effectiveness quickly dies off however as the piece gradually weakens in impact. She shouts the word “Yes”, which rings through the air, repeated throughout as Mesma’s hands move up and down her own body. This “Yes” dominates most of the piece, a clear choice being made to focus on this even when juxtaposed with “No” movements, yet it still would have been fitting to see the balance of “No”. A simple solitary gesture repeated perhaps, a clear statement of the matter, but given more space in the choreography would have consolidated the idea that a “No” can be said and heard. The message of “No” does manifest in the pushing away of her own hands as they traverse her body and an uncomfortable writhing despite the agreement playing out over the speakers. The piece is bold but with a topic such as this it is understandably difficult to say it right. It is a topic that should be spoken about and piece that should be made, but in this case perhaps needs to be remade.