Alexandrina Hemsley and Seke Chimutengwende, Black Holes

Posted: July 1st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Alexandrina Hemsley and Seke Chimutengwende, Black Holes

Alexandrina Hemsley and Seke Chimutengwende, Black Holes, The Place, June 21

Black Holes

Seke Chimutengwende and Alexandrina Hemsley in Black Holes (photo: Katarzyna Perlak)

How do you know I’m real? I’m not real. I’m just like you. You don’t exist in this society. If you did people wouldn’t be seeking equal rights. You’re not real. If you were you’d have some status among the nations of the world. So we’re both myths. I do not come to you as a reality; I come to you as a myth. Because that’s what black people are. Myths. I came from a dream that black man dreamed long ago. I’m actually a present sent to you by your ancestors.” – Sun Ra

Alexandrina Hemsley and Seke Chimutengwende are darkness newscasters exposing the black holes in white history. Black Holes is a cosmic 70-minute orbit that sees them ‘speculating on how to be with their bodies that carry histories of marginalisation and anti-blackness’ while combining ‘elements of Science Fiction and personal narrative to propel the personal and the mythic onto a cosmic scale.’

With a substantial co-authored text delivered alongside their labours, improvisations and choreography we are at once distanced by their static delivery and use of an Afrosurreal language (after D. Scot Miller’s Afrosurreal Manifesto) before being brought proximate by their lived realities of racism, persistent micro-aggressions and the all too familiar fetishization of black hair. They are sayers delivering strange news from another star; a deliberate and disturbing fleshing of ignored personal and conquered histories including Alexandrina recalling how she had her neck pinched in a jazz club in Gloucester.

I’m trying to speak to write the truth. I’m trying to be clear. I’m not interested in being fancy, or even original. Clarity and truth will be plenty, if I can only achieve them.” – Octavia. E. Butler

Arriving into the Robin Howard Dance Theatre I am unsure what we are watching with Alexandrina and Seke already on stage lit beautifully by Simeon Miller’s design that could have been plucked from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Are they the last two survivors on a space ship crashed into an unknown star? Are they interplanetary buccaneers looting the corpses of a long dead splinter cell? Or are they a pair of prophets oscillating between the portals of our world and theirs? Their physical language remains consistent throughout with Seke using his willowy spine-flicking and flashing-out limbs as he rides the score; he is all dart while Alexandrina is totally coily; internalised, groove-filled musicality roaring through her body playing between the desire for stillness and the necessity for movement.

With a set design by Rosie Elnile and Eleanor Sikorski that features afrofuturist asteroids (large, black plastic-wrapped cumbersome cuboids tied with thin chains), both performers labour deliberately, pulling these objects/histories/anchors around the stage at regular intervals leaving slow glacial pushing patterns behind; the weight of their intention and the heaviness of their labour leaves much residue on the eyes long after the 70 minutes have elapsed.

This success permits us to hope that after thirty or forty years of observation on the new Planet [Neptune], we may employ it, in its turn, for the discovery of the one following it in its order of distances from the Sun. Thus, at least, we should unhappily soon fall among bodies invisible by reason of their immense distance, but whose orbits might yet be traced in a succession of ages, with the greatest exactness, by the theory of Secular Inequalities.” – Urbain Le Verrier

Black Holes uses orbit as a mode of creation and as a means of receiving. We see and hear repeated choreographic patterns, poetic text and black light; sometimes the asteroids are downstage, sometimes clustered, sometimes circled. These movements are not invisibled by stage hands in the dark quietly making ready for the next scene; instead we see Alexandrina and Seke as the movers taking the time that time takes to place them where they want; an exercise in space and patience. Hearing repeated phrases (“It was like the bath was already empty and you take the plug out while the bathtub goes into the plughole”) and encountering familiar physicalities leaves space for other imagined and existing works that Black Holes sits alongside; Rachael Young’s Nightclubbing, Project O’s Voodoo, Reni-Eddo Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race and Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm‘s Br’er Cotton.

Lacking any real sci-fi weight (Seke revealed in the post-show conversation that their writing process brought a number of Google-lite searches picking out language from Octavia E. Butler, Brian Cox and Sun-Ra etc. that they remixed and respliced with their own words), Black Holes successfully creates language runs that act as the Sun to the smaller choreographic planetary interventions and would suit a radio/streaming audience in their own right. In contrast to the rising tide of people of colour looking at Afrofuturism and untold/deleted histories, we are still awash in the saturated presence of abstract work that exists solely in the black hole of many white male egos jumping on the science/space/technology bandwagon in order to fill their choreographic deficiencies; Black Holes has more integrity, offers a place for stimulation and reflection and leaves a valuable indentation in head, heart and space.


London Contemporary Dance School, Postgraduate to Professional

Posted: July 28th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on London Contemporary Dance School, Postgraduate to Professional

London Contemporary Dance School, Postgraduate to Professional, The Place, June 21

From London Contemporary Dance School's Postgraduate to Professional

Eleanor Sikorski in Comebacks I thought of later (photo: Marta Barina)

The London Contemporary Dance School’s evening of Postgraduate to Professional dance, now in its third year, offers choreography from a current postgraduate student (Marcus Foo), alumni (Feet off the Ground Dance, Helen Cox, and Eleanor Sikorski) and faculty (Mickael Marso Riviere). As an evening of dance it falls somewhere between a showcase for the school and a choreographic platform, but its predictably uneven quality makes it an unwieldy concept.

The first work, Éter, by Feet off the Ground Dance, an all-female group who describe their mission as ‘contact improvisation and partnering for performance’ is just that: contact improvisation and partnering for performance. But where is the performance? Beginnings, as Ben Duke (another graduate of London Contemporary Dance School) quips at the beginning of Paradise Lost as he searches for his place in the text, are vital for capturing the attention of the audience. But the opening minutes of Éter, in which two women inch slowly sideways, on hands and knees, forehead to forehead, along either side of a diagonal shaft of light has little to recommend it but the contact. The lighting is dim and pulsating and the live score is a low-level wash of sound that makes the sensory compass unable to find its bearings. Most significantly the performance appears to extend class-based contact improvisation exercises on to the stage without any spatial framework. The action of Éter develops with two other women, but without the objectivity that an audience brings, the whole never takes on a performative quality. It is significant that the program note lacks any identifying feature of the work.

Foo’s Automaton Animalia is another piece of choreography that starts in the mist and gets lost. The program note is telling: ‘If I look hard enough, if I could will my mind to look beyond the arch, I might still see it. Maybe it’s still there, just not really here anymore.’ There is an archway of crates we can see through a backlit haze, and five performers moving slowly, mysteriously as they dismantle it and reconfigure it. At least there is a visual focus, but the choreographic concept has no legs; it turns on itself with a score that fails to inspire it. Inspire is to ‘breathe in’ and education is to ‘lead out’, but here the breathing is restricted and the exit is obscured. Creation is the victim.

I wrote about Cox’s de/construct after I saw it at Roehampton University’s Footprint Dance Festival earlier this year. Interestingly her program note has changed focus. ‘Reflect on a time in your life when you were in a period of transition. It is sometimes said that this space in between is the most creative, but also the most vulnerable. Using the dancing body, I move through this space, deconstructing routines and listening to the infinite possibilities of what lies between.’ But this version doesn’t take into account the organic, tree-like hemp dress she wears at the beginning, which ties her to the landscape of her original conception. Once she sloughs it off she is wearing everyday clothes that are closer to the idea of a dancing body exploring the creative space. Somewhere in between the two is the true nature of Cox’s work.

Sikorski’s Comebacks I thought of later substitutes a quote from Shelley for a program note: “Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.” The register is slightly off, for Sikorski’s ‘songs’ are not so much sweet as bitingly funny and the sadness is in her derisive tales of sexual misadventure. Comebacks consists of spoken texts about grunting male chauvinism, minimal musical accompaniment on a portable keyboard, to Sikorski’s vitriolic physical responses to her tales. The poignancy of the performance is as much in the wit of Sikorski’s ribaldry as in her self-deprecatory realization of her inability to think up the comebacks at the moment they were needed. The great strength of Comebacks is in its mastery of the anecdotal form and its scathing celebration of male failings.

Riviere brings the evening to a close with his Éteins Pas, a reworked version of a 2009 piece he made at The Place during Choreodrome. It is inspired ‘by the idea of life after death, with many ideas coming from reading stories about out-of-body experiences.’ Riviere is bold at the beginning to remain supine and motionless for some time; all we hear is the air conditioning. Then he adds the smallest gestures of fingers and hands, ripples through his back to rise on to his knees and to stand, looking slightly sheepish as he looks at us for the first time as if saying, ‘I am not really supposed to be here.’ But having traced his revival with such sensibility, Riviere then subverts it with a display of breaking technique to a driving track by Armand Amar. It comes all too soon and all too easily; Éteins Pas in effect bridges two languages without acknowledging the bridge.


Liz Aggiss, Slap and Tickle

Posted: May 10th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Liz Aggiss, Slap and Tickle

Liz Aggiss, Slap and Tickle, Universal Hall, Findhorn, May 7

Liz Aggiss in Slap and Tickle (photo: Joe Murray)

Liz Aggiss in Slap and Tickle (photo: Joe Murray)

Undermine their pompous authority, reject their moral standards, make anarchy and disorder your trademarks. Cause as much chaos and disruption as possible but don’t let them take you ALIVE.” – Sid Vicious

Liz Aggiss was forged in the cauldron of punk and her new feminist soup, Slap and Tickle, riffs on pishy old women, yummy mummies and flagrantly tosses collapsed floors and sexual taboos out the window. ‘Tis one of the finest crafted and hilarious hours I’ve spent in a theatre.

To witness lizaggiss (the performance persona and brand) in motion is to behold an artist in complete command of her visual world. She nudges the fourth wall, gives it the glad eye, but there’s always the hint that she could demolish it if she wanted. However, it’s also a space where I feel safe as she demonstrates consideration by building the audience’s hardiness to material that some might consider a little saucy. Mining childhood songs, witty word play and music hall standards, there are enough recognisable tropes to keep us comfortable. Through the presentation of her body and what it can do, has done and might do with us watching, it enabled me to consider my own body, the stories it holds and how we look at others. Are you sitting comfortably? You shouldn’t be.

Make them laugh, make them cry, and back to laughter. What do people go to the theatre for? An emotional exercise. I am a servant of the people. I have never forgotten that.” – Mary Pickford

Slap and Tickle is a machine gun of visual joy; no sketch, sequence or quip outstays its welcome, and mixed in with the frippery and froth are some puncturing sentences which aren’t just close to the knuckle; they’re brushing your elbow with a cheese grater. “Are there any wet women in the house tonight?” she asks with her comedic timing and technique honed during her early 80s stints in cabaret and working men’s clubs; it’s a lean, slick and impressive performance (on only its second public outing) that doesn’t let go of your eyeballs or earballs throughout.

I recognised compositional echoes from her previous stage work, The English Channel: a single microphone, a box of props, and the use of multiple costumes and her body to conceal a wunderkammer of curiosities that are revealed as the performance progresses. There’s oodles of jerky early-modernist hand gestures (in reference to a series of pioneering female inter-war choreographers) mixed with rhythmic beat-filled speech; it’s a little bit rude, a little bit anarchic and actively resists neat definition but the narrative is universal and should be celebrated: Women and their Bodies.

If I want to define myself, I first have to say, ‘I am a woman’; all other assertions will arise from this basic truth. A man never begins by positing himself as an individual of a certain sex: that he is a man is obvious.” – Simone de Beauvoir

Slap and Tickle is presented in Findhorn as part of Rise 2016, a three-day festival of contemporary dance and performance sensitively programmed by Karl Jay-Lewin. First on the same evening’s bill are Eleanor Sikorski and Flora Wellesley Wesley, aka Nora, who present a double bill of duets by Jonathan Burrows/Matteo Fargion and Liz Aggiss. It is the first time that Bloody Nora is programmed on the same night as Slap and Tickle and it is fascinating to see the tone, scenography, language and ribaldry of Aggiss channelled through two younger female bodies. It looks like an Aggiss, spits expletives like an Aggiss and smells like an Aggiss — yet the solo body has been split and removed from the mother ship. Now we have two distilled red Aggi imps morphing their bodies, accentuating our gaze and letting us linger in the land of the uncomfortable before they “fuck you’ed” into the distance.

There are tens of millions of female bodies and minds in the world that are aged 62 and over yet in our culture they’re almost invisible. Liz Aggiss resists that invisibility and in doing so has created over the past decade a body of live, film and other work that would benefit from the focus of a festival, symposium or conference to see how the works sit alongside the wider UK ecology.

Slap and Tickle is dance/comedy/art (delete as appropriate) that makes the audience snort, howl and cackle with laughter. It’s a rich and visual collage of womanhood and even though Aggiss actively embraces the maverick tag, she’s exploring and presenting a world that every woman can relate to. Let’s have a party.

 

For a darker view of Slap and Tickle, see a review from the Brighton Festival by Nicholas Minns


Lola Maury, Two to Tune

Posted: July 4th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Lola Maury, Two to Tune

Lola Maury, Two to Tune, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, June 24

James Morgan and Laureline Richard in Two to Tune (photo: Richard Davenport)

James Morgan and Laureline Richard in Two to Tune (photo: Richard Davenport)

“The value of the theatre consists not in proclaiming rules for human behaviour, but in its ability to awaken, through this mirroring of life, personal responsibility and freedom of action.” Rudolf Laban (The Mastery of Movement)

Choreography is already a participatory art, both in its process and in its performance, so when Lola Maury — Visiting Alumni Artist at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama choreographing for their Brink Festival — adds participatory game concepts into the choreographic mix of Two to Tune, it is the game that gives the work its unique character. Rather than a linear narrative the work consists of a succession of gestural images, improvisational in quality, that form a physical dialogue between the two players, James Morgan and Laureline Richard. It is a game in which mutual understanding and acceptance rather than winning are the goals, which gives the ludic nature of the work both a physical and a spiritual aspect. In this I am reminded of Charlie Chaplin’s description of a dancer as a cross between a nun and a boxer, though Richard in particular has the lean muscularity of a long distance runner. Costume designer Clare McGarrigle concurs, giving the players shorts and singlets that speak of both sport and of stylish comfort.

Two to Tune is a small-scale work with abundant energy and a pared-down aesthetic that needs the intimacy of a pared-down theatre for us to read the expressions and catch the details. With the limited rig in the Webber Douglas Studio lighting designer Agostina Califano has sculpted a perfectly scaled underground tryst where Morgan and Richard spar. The game is divided into seamless acts, starting with a prelude in stillness as the two stand side by side looking out at the audience with a gesture of hand over heart as if listening to an invisible umpire reading them the rules. The score by Alberto Ruiz shrouds the freeze-frame actions that follow in neutral sound but as the game develops he incorporates the voices of Igor Urzelai, Moreno Solinas and Eleanor Sikorski into a choir that sounds as if it was — convincingly for the setting — recorded under a bridge at night. It provides a vault of sound in which attention can focus on the interaction of the two players and their gestural references to wrestling, swordplay, boxing, dueling and perhaps to arcane arts. The way Richard articulates her gestures gives them the appearance of a spell that Morgan deftly parries, but the way she comments on her gestures with her expressive face gives her the upper hand, whether curling her lip in distaste or transforming a biking gesture into a narrative of tough individuality. Morgan is more neutral in his use of facial gestures but his endurance keeps Richard on her toes as she finds ways to wear him down, reducing him at one point to a pummeled, willowy adversary to her boxing.

The nature of the game is unclear until the very end; we are left to deduce the rules and the goal from the actions of the players. In this way, Two to Tune relates as much to the tuning of Morgan and Richard as to the tuning of the audience into the nature of their contest. They appear to be stalking each other in a game of strategy, less on the level of a board game (though they make carefully considered moves and react to the moves of the other) as on the physical gestural game of scissor/paper/rock but there is also an ominous, intangible subtext that the brooding score captures. Gestures develop in intensity and complexity, sometimes resting in mid expression then continuing as if in the process of declaiming a speech or waving an arm in defiance. Between Morgan and Richard there is also a sensual, sometimes tender, element to the game, an unspoken attraction and repulsion as they strive to enter the each other’s comfort zone. The speed and space of their moves increases until they are running to the rolling, pounding drumming in the score; they come close to colliding but one of the rules of the game appears to be they cannot touch even in close proximity at high speed. It makes for an exciting dynamic as they constantly test each other, learn about each other and tune in to each other. The way the game resolves, quite suddenly, as they come together in partnership is quite magical, suggesting everything that has happened in the prior 35 minutes has been working towards this moment: the accord of two instruments. It is also a resolution for the audience: we share in the harmony and are reminded of the origins of gesture and dance.


Eduardo Fukushima / Eleanor Sikorski: Dance Umbrella

Posted: October 29th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Eduardo Fukushima / Eleanor Sikorski: Dance Umbrella

Eduardo Fukushima’s Crooked Man and Eleanor Sikorski’s Big hands, big heart, Dance Umbrella, Siobhan Davies Studio, October 26

Eduardo Fukushima in Crooked Body (photo ©RolexBart Michiels)

Eduardo Fukushima in Crooked Man (photo ©RolexBart Michiels)

Great artists are those who can transform their weaknesses into strengths. I don’t know what Eduardo Fukushima has had to deal with in his life, but his artistry reveals he has challenged his demons and won. Short and stocky in stature with an expansive and sympathetic personality, he stands motionless against the end wall dressed in a black pants and high-collared jacket watching the audience arrive. His eyes seem to take in each person. The second-floor studio of Siobhan Davies Studio is divided into three as if for a fashion show, with a broad performance corridor down the middle stretching from one wall to the other with benches and floor cushions either side for the audience.

There is a blackout with a blinding distraction of sound and when the lights come up again Fukushima is standing in the same place, in the same pose, in the same high-waisted black pants but bare chested. This sleight of hand, this piece of magic by Fukushima and stage director, Hideki Matsuka, marks the beginning of Fukushima’s pilgrimage that sees him traveling tirelessly down this corridor of experience towards the light. It is as if we are witnessing the struggle in his head, the fevered hallucinations that work their way through his body, the body of the Crooked Man.

At first Fukushima doesn’t seem to move but there is an almost imperceptible struggle going on that is tightening his arms behind his back, pulling his shoulders back and leaving his chin jutting out like someone being tied to a stake. His face is imperturbable, noble, his body vulnerable. Then his shoulders relax, his arms come to his side and he stumbles forward as if untied to embody a series of images that will develop in the course of the work into a fully modulated study of a man whose suffering is his gift; it is all he has. His reward for offering this gift is his redemption.

Fukushima builds his images through distorted poses like crossed turned-in feet, in the way he walks at times on the knuckles of his toes, hands that are taut and tensed as they stutter out their message, an unexpected shudder that shakes his entire frame like a fever, his fluttering eyelids and his mouth opening and closing in dumb astonishment. There are certain leitmotifs: the sudden release to a back bend, the violent rotation of his upper body and undulation of his hips that test his precarious equilibrium on the floor and an occasional kneeling as if in reverence or proud defiance. Images of a bullfighter and a pugilist pass briefly before our eyes only to be deconstructed in the constant procession of nightmarish forms and shapes that keep pace with the relentless beat of Tom Monteiro’s score. In this masterful depiction of feverish states of mind, Goya comes to mind, and like Goya Fukushima sublimates his journey into something beautiful; terror becomes pathos, grotesque distortion becomes wholeness, suffering becomes compassion. He reaches the far wall and stands facing it. His shoulders list very slowly to one side as the illumination round him increases. From stillness he is suddenly drawn back up the corridor, feet scuttling and arms raised as if pulled involuntarily to his starting point where he stands purified. He has managed to transport us there, too. Sublime.

Eleanor Sikorski (photo: Clare Sikorska)

Eleanor Sikorski (photo: Clare Sikorska)

There is no better antidote to Fukushima’s Crooked Man than Eleanor Sikorski’s free-spirited Big hands, big heart, but it comes before not after. Sikorski herself, dressed all in red to match her lipstick ushers us in to the first floor studio, escorting certain individuals into place like stage props. In the middle of the space is a collection of large red inflatable latex toys including a sofa, a lilo, a dragon, some skittles and a large beach ball. Once we are all in place Sikorski launches herself with total abandon on to the inflated toys and lands sprawled on the floor on the other side. She remains there for a moment; nobody seems to want to see if she is alright. She gets up when the the pulsing music starts, and begins to pulse herself, jumps like a firecracker, does a brief highland dance and skip-hops towards her toys. She picks up the beach ball and launches it through her legs. The musical pulse slows and Sikorski winds down with it until it stops. She lies down on the lilo to catch her breath in silence. We wait; car headlights criss-cross the walls and ceiling. Scarves are coming off as the heat in the room rises, knee joints creak as weight is transferred. Oblivious, Sikorski remains supine. On a whistle she jumps up and gives the lilo to a group of four to hold. ‘Just hold it’, she explains. ‘Are you allergic to latex?’ she asks, followed by ‘Is it possible to buy a ship on the Internet?’ ‘I don’t think so’, ventures one (what half-hearted performers we are). Sikorski hands another group the latex dragon. ‘Feel the bass’, she urges, ‘just feel the bass.’ Since there is no music, it seems an odd command. She invites another member of the audience to sit in the armchair and hands out the remaining skittles. The pounding bass notes begin and shake the floor, us and the latex toys. We are feeling the bass. Seeing we are occupied, Sikorski leaves the room while we stand vibrating with amused (or bemused) expectation. Both Sikorski and Fukushima have big hearts, expressed in such contrasting ways. Great programming.

 

 


Touch Wood 1 at The Place

Posted: September 19th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Touch Wood 1 at The Place

Touch Wood, The Place, September 3

Three women relax, stretch and gaze out at the audience as we come into the studio. On stage there is a wooden platform with two tiny, coloured beach chairs on it and a long wire hanging above it with a light fitting at one end but no bulb. This is Touch Wood, in which ‘four choreographers straight out of the studio seek out the audiences’ reaction as they try out fragments of their latest work.’ Or as the director of theatre and artist development, Eddie Nixon, points out in his introduction, ‘What unites all these works is that nothing is yet finished.’

Dog Kennel Hill has been working on Etudes in Tension and Cries, which Rachel Lopez de la Nieta introduces. It is the outcome of five days of work ‘appropriating scenes of high drama and conflict to see how we find ourselves in relation to them.’ ‘Appropriating’ is the operative word here; despite the gravity of the material the result is ambivalent, coming across as almost parodic. The melodramatic title could be a clue. There are four tableaux in which aggressor and victim change roles. In the first Lopez de la Nieta is a parade ground sergeant barking at a choreographer (Heni Hale) who is gently punching out a movement motif and answering back in army parlance about the duality of mind and body. The second frames a face-off between Lopez de la Nieta as a domineering director and Hale as her terrified, speechless assistant. The director wants her to talk about the work. Lopez de la Nieta’s languorous gyrations betray her pleasure at inflicting discomfort, while Hale is petrified and withers under the scrutiny. Finally, she stammers, ‘I think we should show it to some people and get some feedback.’ In the third tableau, Hale is the bullying aggressor pushing Lopez de la Nieta to her physical limits in a comic book treatment of boot camp with American accents, and the fourth portrays a sexual aggressor (a gyrating Hale this time) whose victim places a length of rope on her own lap, tapes her own mouth and puts her hands behind her chair. Neither Lopez de la Nieta nor Hale hold back in their performance but the treatment of violence remains enigmatic. Annie Loc is on stage to manage the lights — Guy Hoare’s lightprint is in the work already — but has no role in the action.

I had misread the title of William Collins’ work, Untied States, as United States, thinking he was an American in London. As soon as he begins to talk in a broad Scottish accent, I realize my mistake. In his introduction, Collins compares a dance in which the act disappears as soon as it is performed to the written word that can be left and picked up again at any time. I don’t remember what else he said, but his performance remains indelibly imprinted on my memory. Collins shares Untied States with Airen Koopmans and Eleanor Sikorski, but his quirky, angular choreographic style is so idiosyncratic that they wear it rather than inhabit it. As soon as Collins takes the stage, not unlike an Egon Schiele drawing in motion, it is clear he is totally committed to what he is doing; it’s in the eyes which are as engaged as the rest of his body. Collins is someone (he explains later) who can read a book in no particular order, and his choreography borrows from this propensity, though remaining (and this is what dance has over the written word) rivetingly in the moment. When we see emerge from his gestures the image of a long-haired girl throwing her hair around (he has no hair), and fanning herself before taking a refreshing shower, we are not sure if it’s the end of the story or the beginning, but he has fixed it in our minds with his wry sense of humour and inimitable mime, giving meaning to what has gone before. While he is rinsing his hair, Nixon calls ‘time out’ and the work steps out of its frame. In a revealing session of questions and answers with the choreographer afterwards (part of the Touch Wood format), Collins speaks about the beginning of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves in which she describes in minute detail all the elements of a sunrise before the reader can put all the micro elements together to see the bigger picture. Collins seems to have pulled off a similar accomplishment in his choreography.

Valentina Golfieri walks on clutching her Mac, sets up a screen on the side, beams some images on to it and introduces her work, Strange and Unproductive Thinking to David Lynch’s track of the same name. Golfieri says she is not working towards making a product as much as she wants to create a means to an end. The images on the screen are a record of her influences. Standing centre stage, without moving her feet, her arms pull her neck and back down to her feet, again and again, faster, like peeling off a jumper or taking off layers to see what is left. What is left? Golfieri is not sure; her dark and lively eyes wear an expression of uncertainty as the unpeeling gets out of control. She pulls it back from chaos and her face relaxes; she is enjoying the process, circling her body now with raised arm gestures, until a sense of worry and despair returns. As the music stops she is left holding her head. In the silence she repeats a phrase ‘What if I speak now’ quietly, somewhere between a prayer and an incantation. Golfieri’s bold process reminds me of Paul Taylor’s early choreographic experiments in which he deliberately used everyday gestures (walking, queuing, standing) in an effort to rid himself of the influences of his past on any present or future choreography. To some it was strange and unproductive, but it gave him a platform (and the confidence) on which to build. Golfieri’s process is also one of divestment but we shall have to wait to see if it is the stimulus she wants.

Joseph Mercier lugs on his Mac connected to a keyboard. Tess Letham rolls on a suitcase and Leila McMillan and Jordan Lennie drag on large crash pad. Mercier and his Panic Lab colleagues introduce the concept of Toxic as a comic strip: how we might be superheroes, using a movement vocabulary of characterization with little bits of a story. Letham takes her suitcase with her to the microphone to set the story’s context; she has just the right intonation and delivery. The show begins with city sounds; Joseph is a man reading the Daily Mail (with the headline Pupils packed in like sardines) waiting for a bus with two others. Letham herself is, we are to imagine, dressed in a yellow leather biker suit, ‘like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill.’ Mercier picks a fight with her in which the other two join, but Letham makes quick work of his attack and defends herself convincingly in slow motion combat circling the stage, beating them all. She is the only one left standing. ‘It was not my intention to do that in front of you’ she demurs heroically into the microphone.

In the second clip, Lennie is locked up in jail. Mercier the interrogator asks him his name. ‘T-Cell’. We hear the sound of a whip (thanks to sound designer Dinah Mullen). What’s your real name? asks Mercier, trying hard to look menacing. Whip. What do you know about the one they call Canary? McMillan walks down the stage provocatively, arms rising, looking at each of us, a femme fatale. Letham provokes her by saying, ‘I’m the Iron Lady, the world’s most powerful.’ McMillan tells us that the girl wearing the yellow suit is a whole world of trouble. They strut around each other. McMillan zaps her with her fingers: round one to the femme fatale. Mercier moves the crash pad to meet Letham’s next knockout. Meanwhile Lennie wakes up and tangles with her but McMillan steps in to destroy them both while Mercier looks on wide-eyed.

He warns us that the next scene is a little violent. He and Lennie are walking around in another slow motion fight scene, punctuated by violent contact blows or lifts that send Lennie flying while the two girls look on. Letham concludes in a bubble of speech that she knows exactly what she needs to do. They all do. To be continued.