Tiago Guedes is a Portuguese choreographer resident in France, and his solo Materiais Diversos is very unlike British dance. It’s completely unflashy, derives from a concept rather than reaching for effect, and you have to watch at least half of it before it starts to make sense. Fortunately, it has been picked up by the Dance Umbrella festival and presented under the Out There slot reserved for works that aim to push the envelope.
In his old clothes, Guedes looks like any bloke, not a dancer. His actions are purposeful but unremarkable. Alone on a bare stage, he points his fingers to the ground and lifts them up. He walks in rectangles, arms lifting and spreading. He touches his hand to the ground, then his shoulders, his heart. We can guess what he’s up to – pulling strings, pacing corridors, enacting some esoteric ritual – but we have scant access to whatever imaginary world he’s in.
If that were all – and initially, there’s no indication there could be more – Materiais Diversos would feel rarefied and pretentious. But everything changes in the second half, which is simply a repeat of part one, but with props. Waving an arm and shuffling downstage now becomes spraying a landscape on to a curtain of newspapers and unfurling a blue river of plastic sheets. The hand-to-heart ritual becomes the scrunching up of sheets and stuffing them into his clothes, until he has the proud bulges of a cartoon superhero.
With its sticky tape, wire and scissors, there’s a home-made, Blue Peter feel to this section, which might as well be called…”Here’s one I made earlier”. It’s charming and quietly funny, at the same time as gently questioning how we make sense of what we see – like a kind of choreographic Play School, with Guedes as both child and teacher.