Dance with Talk Doesn’t Quite Come Off

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Various Composers, If Play Is Play…: HeadSpaceDance, Royal Opera House (Linbury Studio Theatre), London, 16.04.2014 (J.O’D)

Dancers: Christopher Akrill and Gemma Nixon
Choreography: Johan Inger
Music: ‘Silouan’s Song’ by Arvo Pärt
Costume Designs: Sabine Lemaître
Lighting Design:Simon Bennison

Before the Interval
Dancers: Christopher Akrill, Clemmie Sveaas, Jonathan Goddard
Choreography and Sound Design:   Luca Silvestrini
Devised by: HeadSpaceDance
Music: Bill Frisell, Schaftl Uftschik, Ross Aubrey, Jonathan Dawe/Nick Powell/Sarah Willson (Oskar) and Pascal Comelade
Costume Designs: Sabine Lemaître
Lighting Design: Simon Bennison

The Days The Nights The Wounds and The Night
Dancers: Christopher Akrill, Clemmie Sveaas, Gemma Nixon, Jonathan Goddard
Choreography: Matthew Dunster and HeadSpaceDance
Sound Design: Ian Dickenson
Costume Designs: Sabine Lemaître
Lighting Design: Simon Bennison


Founded in 2012 by performer-producers Christopher Akrill and Charlotte Broom, HeadSpaceDance returns to the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio Theatre with three new pieces that, according to the programme, ‘have been about us discovering unfamiliar ways to create new work’. Two of the pieces (those choreographed by Luca Silvestrini and by actor-director Matthew Dunster and HeadSpaceDance) involve a use of words as well as movement. Despite effective moments, the overall result is that both words and movement suffer. By the end, I found myself agreeing with the young woman who said, during the interval that followed the Silvestrini piece: ‘I didn’t actually think they needed to be talking. Like the dance would have been enough.’

After the intense, six-minute long, and wordless, Two (by Swedish-born choreographer Johan Inger), that opens the evening, Silvestrini’s Before the Interval starts with the sound of a recorded telephone message. A woman’s voice explains to Christopher Akrill (who is seen crossing the stage with a mobile phone in his hand) why she no longer wants to work or dance with a company we assume is HeadSpaceDance. ‘And you have Clemmie,’ she says by way of reparation. At this point dancer Clemmie Sveaas appears through a door at the back of the bare stage. After joining the company for its debut at the Linbury in 2012, she returns here in a guest appearance.

Sveaas brought a particular warmth to her role in Cathy Marston’s ‘Witch-Hunt’ on the Linbury stage last year. Her voice has warmth, and humour, too. Of the three, ‘miked up’ dancers (the others are Akrill and Jonathan Goddard), she is the one who carries off best the difficult job of speaking and moving at the same time. Choreographer Luca Silvestrini recently employed this same technique in his ‘Border Tales’ at The Place. There the dancers said, ‘I think you think…’ to the audience. Here, they ask each other, ‘Do you think they think…?’ about the audience: ‘Do you think they think we smell each other’s sweat?’; ‘Do you think they’ve nodded off?’ The piece can be funny, and it is interesting to see the act of performing dance deconstructed. Comparing the effect of different moves on the stage, Sveaas asks, ‘If I walk away from him?’ She then walks away from Jonathan Goddard. As she does so, the effect of the distance put between them is appreciated in a different way. Elsewhere, the words set the agenda too much. You feel talked down to.

Even so, you look at the dancers from an altered perspective when they return, with Gemma Nixon, to perform The Days The Nights The Wounds and The Night (choreographed by actor-director Matthew Dunster and HeadSpaceDance). Like ‘Pictures We Make’, the work by Company Chameleon in which Gemma Nixon danced (also at the Linbury) last November, this deals with power and abuse in the relationships between four people. The difference is that it adds words and characters. Jonathan Goddard, the only one not given anything to say, is supple and subtle as, freed from speech, he is shown to need no more than one finger to dominate Nixon’s movements during their duets. Christopher Akrill, a histrionic, domineering choreographer, swears a lot. Clemmie Sveaas is a dancer rejected by Goddard in her personal life and maltreated by Akrill in the studio. Each of her gestures is made as if prompted by inner emotion. Her one, desperate ‘Please!’, as if asking Goddard to stay while with her arms she pushes him away, is the word in the piece, the evening, that strikes the most authentic note.

 John O’Dwyer

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