Contemporary Dance Triple Bill Puzzles, Delights and Draws Admiration at “The Place”

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Various composers, Resolution! 2015: Frustra, Breaking Breath, burrow: Julia Thorneycroft Dance/B-Hybrid Dance/Joshua Beamish, The Place, London, 20.2.2015 (J.O’D)

Performers: Vicki Hearne, Murilo Leite D’Imperio, Sarah Moody
Choreographer: Julia Thorneycroft
Music: Sarah Moody

Breaking Breath
Performers: Jumar ‘Jumanji’ Aben, KJ Clarke-Davis, Hattie Lauren Grover, Sofia Micy-Michouli, Lucy Sam, Eloise Sheldon
Choreographer: Brian Gillespie
Music: Cameron Gallaher: Breaking Breath (original composition); Hidden Orchestra: Spoken

Performers: Matthew Ball, Nicol Edmonds (The Royal Ballet)
Choreography: Joshua Beamish
Music: Dmitri Shostakovich: Piano Quintet in G Minor Op. 57 (Prelude, Scherzo and Intermezzo) Played by the Borodin Quartet

The three very different kinds of dance in this Resolution! triple bill were met with three very different kinds of applause. For Frustra, it was that of an audience happy to be puzzled because it had also been amused. For Breaking Breath, it was the cheers of an audience swept up on a wave of lyrical energy. For burrow, it was admiration for two dancers and their dance.

A performance about a performance, Frustra (by Julia Thorneycroft Dance) is a work in which all the elements are intentionally out of sync. Clothes are mismatched. Movement comes in short, unexpected bursts. Sound, interestingly, is something that can not be taken for granted. A man and a woman face the audience with ingratiating smiles. They are joined on the stage by a cellist, who seems unaware that there is an audience.

Dance is mostly a question of an arm that shoots up, a leg that shoots out, a ripple that goes through the man’s body, or the raising of one of his particularly expressive eyebrows. The woman plays the role of the ‘straight man’. But it is her partner who takes hold of a microphone, as if in frustration, to say: ‘It goes like this.’ He demonstrates. ‘Dip it low! Slice! Rambert! (at which the audience chuckled) Twerk! (at which he wiggled his bottom)’ After a sequence in which a recorded voice gives instructions for an ‘argentine tango’, the dancers write for each other a mark out of ten. The piece ends with the cellist, alone on the stage, singing as she plays. ‘I didn’t understand that last piece, at all,’ a puzzled woman in the audience said, during the interval, to the person beside her. ‘But perhaps that’s because I’m not a dancer.’

I liked B-Hybrid Dance when they performed in last year’s Resolution!. I liked them, this year, even more. Breaking Breath, according to the programme notes, pays homage to people trying to save the ‘Irish language’. Choreographer Brian Gillespie portions movement carefully across the dancers and the stage. Dressed in loose grey shirts, their bare feet making firm contact with the floor, the dancers fold and interlock and break away to a fast-paced score by Cameron Gallaher, or to a voice speaking what might be Gaelic. Sometimes they huddle, with hands held close to their stomachs. Sometimes they run or roll. At one point they seem to perform the footwork of an Irish jig. Complex sequences of movement are repeated like leitmotif. The piece ends, wistfully, with all six dancers forming and reforming in one of them.

The presence of two dancers from The Royal Ballet on the stage of The Place may be a final blurring of the distinction between classical ballet and contemporary dance. Joshua Beamish choreographed a solo for Nicol Edmonds that was performed in last year’s Draft Works at the Royal Opera House. In burrow, he contrasts Edmond’s flexible, willowy frame with Matthew Ball’s more angular movement. It is their different ways of moving, in a duet in which gender becomes a detail, that seems to keep the two, semi-naked dancers apart.

Music by Shostakovich, performed to a recording by the Borodin Quartet, gives the piece a strained atmosphere. The two men dance around, rather than with, each other. Physical contact is brief and ambiguous: a hand placed on a chest; a forehead that rests on a stomach; a pointed elbow hovering over a torso. Ball often watches Edmonds dance, as if acknowledging this dance as the expression of an elusive otherness.

While Nicol Edmonds is able to raise his leg with a clean movement from the waist, Matthew Ball has one of the things that all dancers (I have read, or heard) want to have: beautiful hands. And Joshua Beamish makes a feature of them. When dancing alone, Ball straightens his fingers, like Nijinsky in L’après-midi d’un faune, and points them to the floor. He uses them, three times, in a stylised gesture of introspection, to trace the line of his eyebrows. It is the hand he stretches out to the audience, when Nicol Edmonds has left the stage, that brings the piece to an end. Matthew Ball, like Nijinsky according to his sister Bronislava, has hands that perform their own dance.


John O’Dwyer


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