Charles Linehan’s choreography will never deliver kicks to a mass audience, but its understated, moody intelligence inspires deeply-felt admiration – even adoration – from dancers, fellow choreographers, critics, thinking audiences and at least some promoters. Considering this, he has been singularly unsuccessful in attracting funding – at least in the UK (Joint Adventures in Munich was the principal funder for his latest work). Though he can tick the core ‘artistic excellence’ checkbox on funding applications, he doesn’t score highly in the ‘peripheral’ categories of community/education work, cultural diversity, self-promotion and entrepreneurship. In short, he’s the kind of artist that the system fails rather than supports. Thanks, then, to Dance Umbrella, which has continued to back him over the years, and commissioned both works on his current programme.
New Quartet is in fact a reworked version of the 2003 commission Disintegration Loops. At that time seemed too diffuse, but it now looks considerably tauter and more focused. Mikki Kunttu’s warm lighting washes the stage, as lush and as saturated as Julians Swales’ music. Greig Cooke opens, followed by Andreja Rausch, separated in their corridors of light, gradually, almost unintentionally moving towards each other, into a casual duet that happens almost as if by chance. Rahel Vonmoos and Ben Ash are the next couple, again entering separately. Their encounter is spikier, sliced and sectioned by slashing arms and torso blocks. Later Ash lets his head rest like a comma in the bracket of Vonmoos’s curved arm, and she hooks his hand under her chin in a tentative gesture of acknowledgement. The stage becomes increasingly invaded by shadows; the music too darkens and grows sparse, as the dancers become more floorbound, manipulating their limbs as if their own bodies were reluctant to obey them. It’s a dance of exits and entrances, as much about departure as connection: it may be a quartet, but mostly you see an unsettled pattern of solos, duets and trios, as each new entry provokes another exit.
He doesn’t just choreograph movement, he’s also expert at choreographing space – spaces that speak volumes
Happy Days, Linehan’s new work, is superb, a spare, introspective piece that accumulates a mesmerising intensity as it unfolds. Here the music begins sparsely, a simple octave repeated on the guitar, and gradually grows more dense. Cooke and Vonmoos are the separated couple that open this time, and again their encounter is casual, almost indifferent. When Andreja Rauch enters, again she displaces someone else from the stage – as if three really were a crowd, but sometimes it happens that way. The music darkens to a scratchy, looped recording of a plaintive piano phrase, and again there’s that haunting sense of separateness. Even when the dancers are close to each other, you see the personal space around and between them. And that encapsulates the one of Linehan’s recurrent themes – or so it seems to me. He doesn’t just choreograph movement, though you’re certainly gripped by its detail (excellently performed by the cast): a spread-armed pose that hovers as if in anticipation, or a two-stage collapse of an elbow that speaks of a tentative giving-in. He’s also expert at choreographing space. Whether the dancers are close or far apart, you sense both the the contact and the distance between them – spaces that speak volumes about how people interact.