The new link-up between The Place and Battersea Arts Centre is an excellent idea, a crossover not just of art forms but of audiences. Interestingly, whether by chance or design, both pieces on the bill I saw – Igor and Moreno’s Idiot-Syncrasy and Robert Clark’s Promises of Happiness – addressed the question of audience rapport, though in utterly different ways.
The opening of Idiot-Syncrasy is essentially a prologue: Igor Urzelai and Moreno Solinas, in jeans and tracktops, singing a Sardinian folk refrain over and over. It serves as a kind of rev-up to motor the choreography into motion: the musical pulse gradually sets the pair bobbing on the spot, until bouncing takes over from singing – and thus they continue, the little tiggers, for the rest of the hour-long piece. But it also foreshadows musically what will become choreographically thematic: repetition, unity, duality. They sing the same song, yet repetition shows us exactly how it is not and is never the same song: one voice will take a different harmonic line, there are different inflections of dynamic and breath, and even in unison there are, irreducibly, two different voices.
One song, two voices gives way to one dance, two bodies. Their endless bouncing becomes not so much something they do as their way of being. They’re two of a kind, but different; indeed the whole work is about togetherness and separation. When they strip down to shorts and t-shirts, Moreno chucks his clothes away while Igor folds them neatly and lays them on the floor. They bob forward and back and sideways and round, and into the audience and out again. Sometimes, one of them bounces off behind one of the white flats protruding into the stage like extended wings, and then bounces back on. They seem to be bobbing along together even when we can’t see them, or they each other.
It’s rather cute, this jumping-bean life, though obviously quite tiring for them. By way of reinforcement, Igor bounces on with a bottle and cups, and they share a peg of whisky. Sweetly, they then offer whisky and cups for us, the audience, to share around; and we do. Oof, it hits the spot, and we all get a little glowy together.
Now that we’re all mellowed, the piece takes a turn. Lights dim, a dark throb of saturating sound starts up (sound design by Alberto Soler), tugging Igor and Moreno into a more restless mood, limbs dragging them off and away from each other into spiralling, turbulent eddies. After an episode of stripping away layers (t-shirts that both cover their heads and show prints of their faces; duality, identity and its erasure to the fore once again), the mood grows calmer as they begin to circle each other in slowly tightening orbits until they finally enclose each other in a gently revolving embrace. Contact at last. It’s a hard-won and a heart-felt moment: both are flushed with fatigue, and need this time of respite from the dance, and with each other. It’s as close to comfort and communion as they can get, which is to say: we sense their togetherness as intensely as their irreducible separation.
It’s a still, intimate scene that itself intimates something profoundly moving about togetherness and solitude; about human existence, actually. A pang of regret, then, that it’s followed by the one section which felt extraneous to me: murmured snatches of love songs, tinged with melancholy, that diminished rather than extended this moment of insight. And then they start spiralling again, now facing outwards, returning from their private world back to the stage and to the viewer. Two dancers, one dance, and all of us.
I’ve written elsewhere about minimalist, repetitive choreography as a kind of godlessness but Idiot-Syncrasy is the first time I’ve experienced it as a kind of humanism. Igor and Moreno are very personable presences (first-name terms feel fine from the off), and in contrast to the variously mind-blowing, soul-destroying or trance-inducing states that other minimalist choreography can induce, Idiot-Syncrasy feels very human. More than that: humane. The pair include us, the audience, with a gentleness of gaze and a generosity of spirit that goes way beyond the whisky. Even the unseen, off-stage world seems to be included, through Kasper Hansen’s simple set of protruding wings. And so the performance seems to acknowledge the togetherness and the separation of dancers, audience, and the world beyond: them, us, the rest. I left feeling an expanded person, as well as a bit like this little kid.
The laudable starting point of Robert Clark’s Promises of Happiness is that we focus too much on negativity, so why not accentuate the positive for once, and think about what makes us happy? His four peppy performers – Kip Johnson, Stephen Moynihan, Janina Rajakangas and Martha Pasakopoulou – offer a series of solutions: money (a lottery card scene), acclaim (we’re egged into giving Pasakopoulou a standing ovation), drink (tea and whisky are proffered), dancing for joy – yes, we’re supposed to join in too – and free hugs, from which I flinched. The performers go at it with considerable verve, doing stand-up, dancing crazy, having a big kiss-in, changing into yellow costumes (it’s a happy colour) and plenty more, but it doesn’t really amount to much more than a listicle of pat answers. Perhaps that’s the point: are these actually meant to be empty promises of happiness, tinged with desperation? If so, I guess the final scene, which tells us that happiness comes through sharing positive feelings with people who are important in our lives, is meant to be the real deal. Recordings of phone calls to their mums, etc., are duly played back as evidence, or example. Well, maybe I’m a mean-spirited old misery-guts, but it felt much like the other scenes to me: phoney (not just literally), not very illuminating, and quite manipulative. Still, afterwards I did share a walk to the station with an important person in my life; we gave vent to our negative feelings about the piece, and instantly felt a lot happier.