It’s about freedom and flight, about getting airborne with ropes and pulleys. But none of that “new circus” nonsense, with its Lycra, pizzazz and creatures from another world. It’s high art (geddit?). So goes the patter that introduces Shift, by Gravity and Levity. Founded in 2005 by Lindsey Butcher, the company combines the equipment of circus, the technique of dance and the lofty aims of art house choreography.
Shift strings together three episodes within Mish Weaver’s mind-boggling set, a rickety contraption of wires, poles, sandbags and beams. After a faltering start – poorly acted spats between Guy Adams and Vanessa Cook – the first section, by Charlotte Vincent, turns out to be the best. Suspended and spinning, Butcher and a plank of wood chase each other through the air. You’re transported to the physical romance of childhood. Next is a duet for Adams and Jennifer Paterson. He is earthbound, she is on a rope. As she vaults over him or drifts away, she seems harnessed by forces that are simply beyond him.
That subtle linkage of action with personal relationship – breaking apart, leaning on, turning against – is what choreographer Charles Linehan can do so well. Though there are powerful undercurrents in his duet for Butcher and Scott Smith, it feels like the beginning of an idea, but one not fully realised.
The finale, by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas (creators of hit show Stomp), entails a lot of heaving for a meagre result: a lumpen, underpowered rhythm made by dropping sandbags and bouncing planks. As too often in Shift, the choreography is more bogged down than liberated by the equipment, leaving me yearning for Lycra, pizzazz and a few aliens.