The Spring Loaded festival is a showcase for companies in the squeezed middle of contemporary dance: they don’t get the recognition of established groups, but have far more experience than younger startups. That can be a productive position, as this opening night showed: though it was rough around the edges, the imaginative freedom was refreshing.
In Darren Ellis’s Long Walk Home, four women (the oldest is 70, the youngest still a student) embody different stages of life. Each successive solo is slanted in a different direction. Each features an empty pair of shoes on the floor and a balloon floating above, like a role on the ground and an aspiration in the air. And each is a variation on the same motifs: wrigglings, dodges and twists, upward reaches offset by downward tugs.
Linda Lewcock, the oldest woman, makes these look like domestic activities; Mari Hullett, the youngster, like play. Jo Wenger brings vigour and desire, periodically pausing her full-bodied dynamism to extend a hopeful hitchhiker’s thumb. The centrepiece is an astonishingly nuanced solo by middle-aged Lauren Potter, in which her body becomes both a burden and a means to shoulder it. The limpid folk music of the Askew Sisters, playing live on stage, underlines the work’s elegiac edge.
In Robert Clark’s Badlands, Victoria Hoyland and Jake Ingram-Dodd play a couple driven by desire and dysfunction through scenes that recall some darkly gothic films: Badlands, of course, but also Blue Velvet, Pan’s Labyrinth and others. He bucks like a bronco and growls lasciviously into a microphone; she turns her hands into eyes that feed on his flesh as he sleeps. A dream of love – represented by a pop song and a cardboard house – forms the backdrop to their turbulent powerplay. It’s full of bold ideas, but its tone wavers, as if undecided whether to be dramatic or clever.