The tiny Print Room theatre recently moved from its old home in Notting Hill into the nearby former Coronet cinema, lovingly refurbished with plenty of antique, velvety charm. Hubert Essakow continues as associate choreographer, and following Flow (2013) and Ignis (2014), his new work Terra marks the last of a trilogy of works themed respectively on water, fire and earth.
When the piece opens we seem to be underground. The set is like a room buried after an earthquake, with tables and lamps leaning askew against a rockface. On the floor, Estela Merlos coils and writhes like a worm. One by one, four other dancers enter, each carrying a battered case that matches the dusty colour of their clothes. Footfalls echo cavernously and breaths are caught and amplified.
It’s highly atmospheric, rich in imagery and suggestion. Terra is constructed from just such airy elements, and it’s frustrating that they often dissipate instead of solidifying into something more durable, more grounded. On the soundtrack, verses from Ben Okri’s specially commissioned poem are read at intervals, and the words intimate wide worlds – cosmic space, fertility, growth, decay – that feel too transcendent for the more impressionistic gazing on stage.
Jean-Michel Bernard’s score occasionally veers towards sentimentalism, but mostly it catches both mind and heart with its straying dissonances and its variegated textures. The dancers are skilled and highly watchable, right down to 11-year-old Jessica Chalmers, who joins them later on. It’s only towards the end that the piece really gels theatrically but when the choreography comes into its own, it can be riveting.
Essakow has a gift for crafting physical detail and composing movement: he can make symmetry seem sinuous, and infuse patterns with turbulence
Essakow has a gift for crafting physical detail – the thread of limbs, the play of force and shape, the exactitude of phrase and contact – and for composing movement: he can make symmetry seem sinuous, and infuse patterns with turbulence. It’s a rare quality, and worth seeing in action.