Tom Dale Company: Refugees of the Septic Heart

Posted: March 29th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Tom Dale Company: Refugees of the Septic Heart, Pavilion Dance, March 28

Tom Dale

Septic hearts, refugees, apocalyptic overtones and the universe; there’s enough here for a university course in philosophy but Tom Dale packs it all into a single performance of dance and you don’t need a student loan to get a ticket.

Dance collaborations with other arts disciplines have been around for a long time: narrative dance has a particular affinity for sets and costumes and a musical score. Dale’s artistic vision is no different, though he updates the media to electronic music and the digital arts. He also employs Rick Holland as creative consultant and dramaturge, for the massed forces in Refugees of the Septic Heart are considerable: the music of Sam Shackleton, projections by Barret Hodgson, lighting design by Liam Fahey, sets and costumes by Kate Unwin, and text by Vengeance Tenfold form an all-engulfing environment for a group of six dancers. For the most part Dale’s choreography manages to stand out from all this, though the dancers have strong competition. It is one of the drawbacks of projections that the more arresting they are, the more focus is drawn away from the dancers, and the more arresting the dancers are, the more focus is drawn away from the projections. Once the curtain opens on Swan Lake, you barely notice the sets, but here you can’t take in all the visual elements at the same time because they haven’t quite learned the manners of serving one another; they are more like siblings with a secret rivalry who are seen together in public but keep to their separate rooms at home. It is the same with Shackleton’s music and the texts by Tenfold: impossible to hear both clearly at the same time, which begs the question, why add a layer of text at all? It may be relevant, but if it can’t be heard, it would perhaps be better to print it in the program.

Shackleton’s music has been described as ‘brooding atmospheres, intricate lattices of percussion and warm, embracing sub-bass lines’ and its driving force derives in part from its being played at high volume in a club atmosphere. In its theatre setting, the score for Refugees of the Septic Heart is not all dance music; there are sections of landscaping as well, but as one layer among many in the work, its complexity absorbs a considerable amount of energy and density.

Taking place on the fringes of society, the set resembles a small cove enclosing a tiny beach; the dancers climb over the geometrically shaped rocks for their entrances and exits, and they dance on the sand. This and the reptilian infighting and oppression in the choreography makes me think of Lord of the Flies, though this ‘island’ is more of a refuge on the outskirts of a city whose glinting skyscrapers we see in some of the projections. The dancers work incredibly hard with the spatial precision and timing that comes with endless rehearsal and not a few bruises. The costumes, however, tend to distract rather than enhance the figures: too much flapping about of pseudo rags on the one hand and too many costume changes on the other. An isolated, apocalyptic group with a wardrobe?

Barrett’s projections range from the galactic to the domestic, from a depiction of the universe of stars to a clock winding backwards, from arcane mandalas to media clips. The set as well as the costumes become the material on which the images are projected, so they move on different planes. Surprisingly for light, this layer, too, takes up a disproportionate amount of space. The concept of Fahey’s lighting for a Christmas nativity at a donkey sanctuary begins to appear attractive.

The dancers — four men and two women — are the core of the work. Their relationship is not defined, but they clearly know each other. Dale suggests they are the refugees of the title, a loose collective of like-minded souls escaping a septic, heartless society to keep the creative fires alight. Dale does not develop characters so much as fast-paced, physical relationships that give the impression of emotionless ties between the dancers that are nevertheless tightly defined by their movement. One opportunity for a warmer, almost comic exchange is between Ariadna Gironès Mata and Joshua Smith as they point at each other and out into the audience as if to ascribe some fault or condemnation. Another is Hugh Stainer as messianic jester carrying a worn piece of cardboard on which is written ‘Time’s Up’ which he repeatedly shows to John Ross, who rejects it. But these instances are isolated, with neither precedent nor development, and thus take on the quality of the absurd, which may or may not be deliberate.

Despite its initial promise, philosophy is perhaps the weakest layer in Refugees of the Septic Heart, yet it offers in its encouragement of creative independence in the face of an apocalyptic vision the one thread that can link all the layers. Its important voice, however, is overpowered by the others, one layer on top of the other, each with its separate identity that you may like (and grasp on to) or not (and reject). Perhaps it comes down to a question of time and resources: with such an ambitious task, eight weeks in production including choreography is insufficient to do justice to Dale’s integrated concept. Finding that balance and completion is to come.

Refugees of the Septic Heart unite!