Some fall by the wayside, some fall on stony ground – and some take root and yield thirty, sixty or a hundredfold. The Resolution festival of new dance at the Place Theatre, now in its 29th year, always makes me think of the parable of the sower. Designed as a platform for new and emerging dancemakers – choreographic seedlings, if you like – it’s a scatter-and-see kind of programme, with three different groups presented each evening. Many of these budding choreographers, for a host of different reasons, will not grow into flower. But some will: figures who started out here include Wayne McGregor, Kate Prince (ZooNation) and Luca Silvestrini (Protein Dance).
This year saw more than 80 new works presented, and on the basis of the five evenings I attended it’s clear that street dance continues to be major influence on new choreography. With mixed results: the balance between innovation and imitation is tricky. Certainly, the tight, ultra-synchronised style that works well in short-burst video clips can struggle to sustain interest on stage. Saran Kohli’s Molecules of a Dream, for example, is as dynamic as a music video. Backed by a posse of four, Kohli plays a sharp-suited Sikh ping-ponging between teenboy fantasies and the humdrum realities of a nagging parent and a girlfriend who dumps him. The dancing is slick and entertaining, but not deep: what you see is what you get.
A more theatre-oriented approach worked better in two other street-influenced works. Fly No Filter’s Glorious – Roni sees four dancers playing a girl called Roni across four birthdays as she fast-tracks from carefree 13-year-old teenybopper to a 16-year-old who has encountered both sex and death. There’s rather too much going on to keep a grip on, but it’s a lively work and served well by its cast, especially “Soopa Noodle” (Dan Hammond), who has dancing and acting skills in spades.
As does Tyrone Isaac-Stuart in Umbrella Man: A Love Reharvested, a solo drawing on krump for inspiration but more skewed and contorted than even that pent-up form of expression. He plays an abject creature, battered by the beats and voices on the soundtrack. He trembles behind a carapace of umbrellas; stands upside-down, fingers jabbing at his own back, his palms blood-red. A voice speaks of love, but what we register is pain – even if its cause is unfathomable.
Away from street dance, a number of contemporary dance duets stood out for their quality of craft, construction – and poetry. The best two were Helen Cox’s double pendulum, a low-key but beautifully composed cameo with Andrew Oliver, and They Never Were, choreographed by John Ross and Nicole Guarino. Oliver opens double pendulum in an oblong of light, his pivots and torques and tilts all carefully placed; we almost feel the contours of the space around him. He is displaced by Cox, with a similar solo of her own. Cox and Oliver then share the stage in a duet that deftly slots their solo material together so that the two seem in complete harmony – and yet, never quite aware of this relationship. It’s as if they inhabit two separate dimensions and only we can see the picture in 3D.
Ross and Guarino use a a similar device to more emotive effect in They Never Were. The pair stay intimately close, yet never actually touch; indeed they scarcely register the other’s presence. Their actions are full of faltering gestures and hesitations, addressed to the space around them rather than each other. They seem haunted by disembodied presences: voices on the soundtrack that fill the air with cryptic fragments, like lost memories. The text is actually a little confusing, but sound and motion combine to make this an eerie, melancholy miniature.
Like these two duets – though as yet less fully formed – Jocelyn Todd’s Time + Light is a carefully considered staging of motion, sound and light. Long-haired Lhôte appears first, balancing precariously on one knee before her poise crumples and she rolls away. Crop-headed Alyson Graham is a more solid presence, her gestures more defined and intent. Tracking a series of encounters between these contrasting creatures, the work’s strength rests in its evocations of instabilities: in the blackouts between each scene, in the moodswings of its soundtrack – pastoral bells and birdsong offsetting with woozy electric guitar, thick with squeaks and scratches – and in the corridors of light that open up and close down pathways around the stage.
The idea of unseen forces also suffused two intriguing ensemble pieces. Clélia Vuille’s Saudade is named after the Portuguese word for yearning or missing something – the uncanny emotion felt in the presence of an absence. Two costumes hang over the stage like empty casings for absent bodies. Flashes of light catch ephemeral encounters. In one scene, some performers hold real balloons and others hold imaginary ones. In another, three dancers progress in one direction while another reaches back, towards something that exists only in her mind. Individual episodes work well, but together amount to too many treatments of the central idea. Vuille could easily do more with less.
Ellen Johanssen’s Tuula also uses empty costumes: an array of variously coloured, buttoned and collared shirts like sculpted shells that once fit some body but are now hollow. Johansson begins by pushing them round the stage as dutifully as if raking leaves on a lawn; but the piece is anything but workaday. In a series of solos, she and three dancers stuff those shirts not with people or material, but with our imaginings. Chiara Corbetta carries one upon her shoulder like a constant companion. Jack Sergison lies down between two of them, to a conversational soundtrack of French woodsmen, the shirts becoming more real, more vocal than he is. Karl Fagerlund Brekke holds two shirts aloft like lanterns, glowing with souls that we cannot see. It’s oddly insubstantial – and just as oddly enchanting.
Post-Resolution, will any of these choreographers get lucky? Simone Mousset and Elisabeth Schilling posed the question explicitly and comically in Impressing the Grand Duke. Schilling plays Nympha, a grotesquely doll-like ballet dancer, eager to please and be pretty, while Mousset is Dora, a more cynical, hunched-over contemporary choreographer who craves artistic success. Together they journey into the choreographic forest, through the tunnel of authenticity and over the mountain of innovation, in search of an original idea to impress the Grand Duke of dance. They make it all the way through to the fairytale ending. Then Schilling asks, chillingly: and now? It’s a good question. And the answer – at least, the only one I can give – is in the parable of the sower.