Each January The Place shakes off the old and brings in the new. After the Christmas lull of activity, the theatre is quick off the starting blocks with Resolution!, a long season of new contemporary dance (this year shown at the nearby Bloomsbury Theatre because of major building work at The Place). Resolution! is hard to describe, impossible to encapsulate. Is it a platform? Is it a bridge? It is a pool? Yes, it is.
Resolution! was initiated over 10 years ago by Place Theatre director John Ashford as a platform for choreographic newcomers. Going to the pick-and-mix programmes, with three different shows per night, can be fertile ground for talent- or trend-spotting, but it also throws up its share of dull disappointments and excruciating experiments. But that is the point of Resolution!: you never know until you go.
Soon, Ashford was inviting some of the more successful companies back for the following year – so-called ‘Evolution’ events. And for some, including Mark Murphy, Wayne McGregor and Jasmin Vardimon, Resolution! was a bridge to broader recognition and further development. It was also clear that Resolution!, irrespective of the success of individual companies, was also providing a major resource: a snapshot of the today’s and tomorrow’s dancers, choreographers, styles and themes. How much more fascinating would that be with a glimpse of similar activities from other countries? Thus was born ‘Aerowaves’, with guest visits by young companies from across Europe.
The first of this year’s Aerowaves companies came from Germany. Körper Terrain showed Christina Ciupke and Manuela Fischer up-ended on their shoulders, bums skyward, their legs gently elongating in different directions. And thus they remained, pretty much throughout the piece, their limbs coiling and folding slowly, shoulders shunting and shifting across the floor. With their faces obscured and their bodies up-ended, they avoided any projection of ‘personality’, and though the title indicates bodies and landscapes I found myself thinking of seaweed softly aerated in an aquarium, of delicate shrimps sending out long tactile feelers.
a pleasantly soothing background that could easily send you right to sleep when it looms too clearly in the foreground
And like a subtly lit aquarium, the piece was certainly restful and de-stressing. You could kind of bliss out to its shifting shadows, its distant ambient noises. You could get into a trancey contemplation of the way the dancers’ hips slowly swivelled and torqued in the air against their shoulders on the floor, or of the angles made between thigh and pelvis, between shin and shoulder. But it works best as an environment rather than a focus of attention – a pleasantly soothing background that could easily send you right to sleep when it looms too clearly in the foreground.
Better known as dancers from Rui Horta’s S.O.A.P Dance Theatre, Peter Mika and Olga Cobos have choreographed an intriguing and quietly compelling piece for four dancers of the Bratislava Dance Theatre. Unaccountably titled One Hit Wonder, it’s a series of episodes for two men and two women (Radovan Vagac, Jan Mr, Veronika Knytlova and Eva Lackova), with music that alternates between electro sounds and unaccompanied solo violin music by Bach.
With no narrative to guide it, and no immediately obvious logic linking one episode to the next, it’s only towards the end you become aware of an underlying theme. Early on, we notice a sign downstage: ‘Push’. Teasingly suggestive of some grander scheme, it nevertheless doesn’t reveal much in itself. Much later, one of the men gradually rolls up a strip of flooring to reveal the word ‘Pull’. That sparest and most abstract of threads runs through the piece: like the music, the dance emphasises, though not forcefully, contrasted tensions, the oscillation between different energies, the give and take between dancers.
Sometimes that tension is simply about occupying a particular space, and displacing someone else, as when there are little struggles to inhabit a square of light. Elsewhere, it becomes the foundation for partnerwork. An early duet for a man and woman is full of playful tugs and swings amidst a cat’s cradle of interlocking limbs. Later the two men have a more blokey, competitive interaction of shoves and nudges.
The oscillation of energies is unassuming, but it builds to a level of quiet intensity. As the man rolls up the strip of flooring, he gradually compresses the space in which a woman is dancing. And the final duet leaves the tension unresolved, a man and woman in a gentle dance of attraction and resistance that carries on spiralling as the sound fades and the light dims.
Like them, the dance as a whole doesn’t explain itself, but nor does it seem wilfully obscure. One Hit Wonder is a piece that holds your attention without your quite knowing why, always spiralling just out of reach.