What better way to open Spring Loaded, a wildly eclectic festival of new contemporary dance, than with an evening of wildly eclectic work? Magpie is an odd assortment of five duets and two solos, all by different choreographers, presented by the duo Probe (Antonia Grove and Theo Clinkard). Dancers of considerable experience, they combine the polished look of professionals with the personable feel of enthusiasts, eager to show their collection.
The simple set, a movable proscenium arch with curtains, serves to indicate that each piece has a different angle to the stage. Charles Linehan’s A Way Now transforms simple walks, turns and drops into a plaintive portrait of a meeting and a parting. The dissonant partnerwork suggests a couple who are first distant, then intimate, but always at odds with each other. Undemonstrative on the surface, it’s a piece that gets to you on the inside.
Next is a historical rarity, Trisha Brown’s Accumulation, from 1971, performed by Clinkard. On the one hand it’s a minimalist exercise, a workmanlike construction that simply adds one move (twist thumbs, drop arm) to the next (lift leg, look over shoulder). On the other, its incongruous country and western soundtrack gives it an offbeat, deadpan wit. There is humour, too, in Yasmeen Godder’s I Feel Funny Today – though it’s difficult to know how to take it. Are the forced smiles and mutant walks malicious, slapstick or just plain demented? The piece feels overstretched for a portrait, underdeveloped for a drama.
Next comes an Astaire/Rogers-style number by West End choreographer Stephen Mear, with Clinkard and Grove looking suitably dapper. The evening then shifts gear with This, by New Art Club (Tom Roden and Pete Shenton), which reflects seriously on the nature of performance even while hilariously puncturing its own pretensions. Scag, a solo by the late Jeremy James, has Grove flicking and swaying among spotlights. Mark Bruce brings the evening to a moodily atmospheric close with The Sky or a Bird, with Clinkard lured into a smoky underworld by Grove’s bat-winged dark angel.
The Bruce and Godder pieces don’t quite fit the format – they need more context, more development – but Linehan and New Art Club provide the gold nuggets in this magpie compilation. And Grove and Clinkard are refreshingly convivial, both with the audience and with each other.