Charles Linehan doesn’t go for action, thrills and flashy special effects; he’s an arthouse, not a blockbuster choreographer. Though he may never make a crowd-pleaser, he’s nevertheless clever, considered and very classy, qualities for which he is much admired by those in the know – witness his upcoming commissions from George Piper Dances and Rambert Dance Company.
Last year’s Dance Umbrella commission, Grand Junction, is Linehan at his best. The ‘story’ is simplicity itself – boy meets girl – but of course Linehan is no genre choreographer, and the style and substance of Grand Junction are all his own. This is a small but perfectly formed work that accumulates a softly glowing intensity – understated, to be sure, but all the more powerful for that. For much of the piece, the two dancers, Andreja Rauch and Greig Cooke, remain almost oblivious to each other’s presence, as isolated as the pools of light in which they first appear. She is careful, tidy, timid; he’s broader and more fluid. They trip and twist around their own limbs, at odds not only with each other, but with themselves. Dressed in their any-old clothes, they recycle casual, workaday moves, ordinary people washed by different musical moods as Kimmo Pohjonen’s accordion sighs give way to the more insistent pressure of Julian Swales’ thrumming guitar.
Rauch and Cooke’s initial contact is almost incidental, as if they are drawn together not by desire or intent, but simply through circumstance. But the increasing musical urgency marks a quickening pulse to their final duet, a skilfully crafted miniature that meshes, but does not match, their earlier, isolated movements. Their repeated, undemonstrative gestures suggest – but never spell out – the inner complexity of the relationship: pushes, tugs and falls come to symbolise the small evasions, demands and obstructions of two people who find that the closer they become, the harder it gets. They end apart, of course, angled away from each other, as they were at the beginning. On the surface there is nothing grand about this junction, but Linehan evokes a forceful emotional undertow with such economy of means that it’s impossible not to be both captivated and moved.
Characteristically, the partnering speaks of disjunction and mismatch more than harmony or unity
Disintegration Loops is in some ways an elaboration of Grand Junction. The music cycles from more strummed guitar chords through to plaintive piano motifs. The ambience is warmer than in the earlier work, the clever lighting design (again by Mikki Kunttu) saturating the stage up to a clearly visible ‘roof’, under which the action takes place. Rauch and Cooke again open the piece, this time in separate corridors of light. They are later joined by Rahel Vonmoos and then Ben Ash, each entrance displacing another dancer from the stage so that the whole work appears as a series of duets linked by trios. Characteristically, the partnering speaks of disjunction and mismatch more than harmony or unity, particularly in Vonmoos and Ash’s sharp and shifty duet: their togetherness is sliced and portioned by slashing arms and torso blocks.
Finely composed though it is, Disintegration Loops never quite attains the concentrated interior focus of Grand Junction. Overall, the programme shows how hard it is for Linehan’s less-is-more approach to hit the spot each time. The pieces share much in common, yet Disintegration Loops seems to disperse its energies before they reach the audience, like waves breaking too early against the shore, while Grand Junction transports you, tugging you into its tide.