Dance Triple-Bill with Dark, Serious Tones and Content

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Various Composers,  Sadler’s Wells/Hofesh Shechter Company/Tommy Franzén Productions, Sadler’s Wells, London, 6.2.2015 (J.O’D)

Image 4 by Michael Slobodian
Image 4 by Michael Slobodian

Peformer and Choreographer: Tommy Franzén
Director: Kate Prince
Assistant Director and Assistant Choreographer: Shaun Smith
Musical Director: DJ Wade
Set and Costume Design: Ben Stones
Projection Designer:  Andrzej Goulding
Lighting Designer: Lydia Hardiman
Hair and Make-up Consultant: Melanie Bouvet


A Picture of You Falling
Dancers: Peter Chu, Anne Plamondon
Voice: Kate Strong
Choreographer: Crystal Pite
Composer: Owen Belton
Text: Crystal Pite
Lighting Designer: Robert Sondergaard
Costume Designer: Linda Chow
the barbarians in love
Dancers: Chien-Ming Chang, Frederic Despierre, Yeji Kim, Merel Lammers, Attila Ronai, Diogo Sousa
Choreography: Hofesh Shechter
Lighting designer: Lee Curran
Costume designer: Merie Hensel
Music:  François Couperin, Les Concerts Royaux, 1772, Jordi Savall and Le Concert Des Nations (2004) and Hofesh Shechter
Sound Technician: Adam Hooper
Relighter: Alan Valentine
Stage Manager: Joanne Woolley
Wardrobe Assistant: Helen Johnson

Although it came about through chance rather than by design (as Sadler’s Wells chief executive and assistant director, Alistair Spalding, explains in the programme), the work in this triple-bill by Sadler’s Wells Associate Artists can be linked by a seriousness, or darkness, of tone and of content. Smile (directed by Kate Prince) shows the difference between Charlie Chaplin on and off the screen. Crystal Pite’s A Picture of You Falling analyses a relationship, retrospectively, in an atmosphere of unease. Hofesh Shechter’s the barbarians in love ends with a row of immobile, naked figures facing the audience in smoke-filled shadow.

 As the Tramp, choreographer and dancer Tommy Franzén performs convincingly Chaplinesque bricolage with his hat, walking stick, and other objects around him. As a Tramp in trainers he moves in a freer way, some of it break dance, to look at Chaplin from the perspective of the twenty-first century. In Andrzej Goulding’s twenty-first century animations, the trainers merge with the bread rolls from Chaplin’s ‘bread roll ballet’. Smile may not go very far, yet, in its exploration of Chaplin’s psychology, but Franzén, who captivates throughout, is particularly moving as he balances on the empty frame of a giant, dressing room mirror.

 In Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue (2008), Crystal Pite used free-standing spotlights to form a downstage semi-circle in which the duets were acted out. For A Picture of You Falling, the spotlights are back. This time, though, the semi-circle is both wider and, more importantly, deeper. After successfully moving more than sixty dancers around the Sadler’s Wells stage in last year’s Polaris, Pite seems happier about using the space that extends beyond the horizontal confines in which the action of Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue (and of her later The Tempest Replica) took place. And with this new, spatial depth, there seems to come a new depth of feeling. A Picture of You Falling is not ten duets, but one.

 A recorded voice, speaking a text by Pite, starts: ‘This is a picture of you.’ Later, the voice will give a clinical description of the order in which a falling body makes contact with the ground: ‘Knees, hands, hips, elbows, head.’ The pivotal movement that gives Crystal Pite’s Kidd Pivot company its name can appear mannered. In The Tempest Replica it was mannered. In A Picture of You Falling it is used, along with the text, the space, and other kinds of movement, in the subtle, searching study of a relationship that may have culminated in an act of violence.

 Next month, at the Royal Opera House, the ‘contemporary dance’ choreographer Hofesh Shechter will present a new work created on dancers of The Royal Ballet. This might explain the battements tendus and arms in third position, soon after the piece begins and to music by François Couperin, of the six dancers in the barbarians in love. Before that, though, these dancers have moved as one has come to expect the Hofesh Shechter Company to move (also as one has come to like it moving). They have frantically hopped and jigged on the spot as a group, with bowed shoulders or with their arms raised. They have slapped their hands against their chests.

 There are voices in this piece, too. A single female, as in A Picture of You Falling, starts off by saying, ‘This is your first lesson… Order must be…’. A dialogue follows between this voice and a voice we take to be that of Shechter himself. ‘Hofesh! Be quiet,’ the woman’s voice says at one point. ‘Not everything is about you, Hofesh,’ she tells him.

Disarmingly honest? Contemptuous? Self-obsessed? Offensive? What Shechter’s voice goes on to say could come across as all of these. The dancers do not judge. They stand absolutely still, listening to the apparently agonised creator of their dance. (Whatever else he might be, Hofesh Shechter is a choreographer who understands the power of stillness. Like Martha Graham, the dancers of his company know how to ‘command’ the stage by standing absolutely still.) When Shechter’s voice, if it is his voice, finally says, ‘I cheated on my wife’, they appear to act out his relationship in a dance within the dance.

As it progresses, the barbarians in love strips away movement, sound, even light. It is out of complete darkness that, in the final moments, the six dancers move to the front of the stage. The nakedness of some of them might be Shechter’s nakedness. In their serious stillness, the dancers are also like a mirror to the audience. Their nakedness might be our own.

John O’Dwyer

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