Monday, 9 February 2015

The Associates at Sadler's Wells - a hit and two misses

Peter Chu and Anne Plamondon in A Picture of You Falling. Photograph by Michael Slobodian

One difficulty for dance is finding a way of letting choreographers try out ideas in front of an audience without exposing them to dispiriting criticism.  Resolution! at The Place exists to do exactly that.  You pays your money, takes your choice, and you know that in turning up to the annual experiment-fest you are risking your eyes and your evening.  You might see something wonderful or something less good, but it is fun simply to be there in hope.
At Sadler's Wells or the Royal Opera House, however, if you buy a ticket for the main house your expectations are higher. And the problem with The Associates, a triple bill at Sadler's, was that the work on display was more experimental and less finished than I expected. But one wondrous exception made the entire evening worthwhile.
Let's dispense with the misses first.  
Kate Prince's Smile, a solo created as a showcase for Tommy Franzen, felt like a misstep in both their careers.  She has enjoyed great success with ZooNation Dance Company with works such as Into the Hoods and - more recently - Some Like It Hip Hop and The Mad Hatter's Tea Party.  He is simply a wonder, a seemingly boneless hip hop dancer, with grace, presence and style.
But this tribute to Charlie Chaplin - and the sad life of the clown - was over-extended, sentimental and cliched, saved only by Franzen's skills as a performer.  It simply didn't delve deep enough to make any impact.
Hofesh Shechter's the barbarians in love -how I wish he'd readopt capitals - also skated along the surface of things, though in a more intense way.  It combined the choreographer's traditional love of smoke effects and a ferocious, pounding score with a new interest in baroque music (Couperin) and classical ballet (presumably because he is making a work for the Royal Ballet.)
The piece seems to suggest a contrast between the order of the past and the wildness of the present, hinting at a need for discipline and control, an impression emphasised by a spoken soundtrack that suggests Shechter is struggling to find inspiration and has cheated on his wife.  It is all a bit puzzling and not very effective, particularly since the dancers are tested by classical shapes that seem outside their experience. At the close, when they stand staring at the audience in degrees of nakedness like ancient statues, I felt irritated rather than intrigued.
But the night was redeemed by an extraordinary contribution from the Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite, the most recent associate to be appointed to the Sadler's Wells roster.  A Picture of You Falling - part of a larger work called The Second Person - tells, in expressionistic and confident strokes, the story of a relationship from beginning to fraught end.  With an evocative sound track by Owen Belton and text by Pite herself, the movements and occurrences we see on stage are also described in words, read with just the right haunted weight by Kate Strong.
What I love about Pite is her precision. Every step, each reaction, is thoughtful and exact. The dancers - Peter Chu and Anne Plamondon - seem to inhabit their actions so completely that every muscle, each turn of the head, or flex of the back, speaks volumes.  You read the movement like a book - and the text sounds like music.  
At one moment, Chu falls repeatedly to the floor, showing in articulated stages the words we hear: "This is a picture of you falling. Knees, hip, hands, elbows, head. This is how you collapse."  His hands shoot out, in sad squares.
Under moving spotlights, on a darkened stage, the piece feels like a play by Samuel Beckett or a Japanese haiku.  It shows that less is more, letting ideas resonate into the space it had created. It felt timeless and truthful.  I could have watched it over and over again.

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