Review: Flexer & Sandiland - Disappearing Acts - The Place

Performance: 27 - 29 October
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Friday 28 October 2016

What’s so engaging about Yael Flexer and Nic Sandiland’s Disappearing Acts is that through text, lighting, sound and movement, it investigates some of the blind spots in our lives: the unasked questions, the body slipping in and out of vision, invisibility; what happens behind and above us or on the edge of our peripheries. Flexer’s articulate, supple choreography and Sandiland’s imaginative digital installations conjure up the thresholds of what we can or cannot see. Disappearing Acts sounds like it might be a Halloween special but rather than being spooky it focusses on the process of disappearing, darkness and light and what we leave behind in space.

On the stage at The Place, the audience is seated intimately in a circle on rotating stools. This is essential as action and lighting installations frequently happen behind us outside the circle. It’s our choice whether we swivel round to watch or enjoy the experience of simply sensing the movement or catching it in our peripheral vision. Out of the theatrical darkness, bodies, dancing, personal stories, strange acts emerge in a pleasingly disorientating fashion.

A variety of small lights frame the dancers and the space. Road-work lamps flash in slow sequences to both reveal and hide Flexor’s five performers like a scan or in total darkness the dancers perform tricky partnering lit by small LED lights on their heads. Towards the end Luke Birch and Julie-Ann Minaai perform a searching, sensual duet with their eyes closed, completely at ease.

These intricately choreographed moments contrast with the urgent energetic formations created by the whole company in unison and also when they are joined by eleven CAT students. The determination of Lyndsey McConville as she strides around the circle, surfing through the bodies of the audience like a surging tide with student dancers in her wake reveals many strong presences despite the shadowy space where visibility is tantalizingly blurred by smoke machines and dim lighting.

Although there is also darker territory evoked by Wendy Houstoun’s text, a haunting voice-over of personal stories, awkward questions about terrorism or politicians and descriptions of disappearing bodies, there is also wit and humour. The text weaves in and out of the choreography creating absurd juxtapositions, evocative imagery and amusing anecdotes. For example at the beginning it reads like a shipping forecast while Aya Kobayashi sways in and out of physical consciousness. Both text and solo are rich in metaphors and fittingly chart the fluctuating dis/appearance of the bodies performing around us.

Nick Keegan appears as a magician, then reappears throughout the show to perform a sequence of ‘disappearing’ tricks: two members of the audience miraculously disappear in a black out; the shoes of Michael Jackson cross the stage on their own; a microphone is placed centre stage in a spotlight but there is no body present, only a voice welcoming us to the show.

Often what we don’t see is what makes the biggest impact. This is what Disappearing Acts does and its riveting performers leave strong imprints in the shadowy space for us to ponder.

Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Insider.

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