Review: Gandini Juggling - 4 x 4 Ephemeral Architectures - Linbury Studio Theatre

Performance: 13 - 15 January 2015
Reviewed by Lise Smith - Friday 16 January 2015

Gandini Juggling - 4 x 4 Ephemeral Architecture. Photo: Bettina Strenske

Lovers of ballet usually think about the art form in terms of performance artistry: the purity of a dancer’s line, the fluidity of the épaulement, the expressiveness of the face and body. But underpinning that artistry is a mathematical bedrock: the five positions of the hand and feet, the strict geometry of a dancer’s facing and the angles of legs and torso, the sequences of over-under-across that make up floor-crossing enchainements. By the time this codified technique has been trained into a body, layered with narrative and presented onstage, we see the beauty of the artform and the virtuosity of the performance rather than the maths underneath – but it’s always there, anchoring the performance.

The same can be said about a virtuosic display of juggling: the mathematical rigour that underpins sequences of tossing and catching balls, rings and clubs receives less attention than the skill and artistry of a circus performer, but is essential to the performance. So the parallels drawn between these two forms by the eight performers of 4×4 Ephemeral Architecture – four classical ballet dancers and four juggling artists – are perhaps not as surprising as they first appear; arithmetic, geometry and even algebra all have their parts to play in each.

The opening sequence is performed without music, the eight performers accompanying themselves with the rhythmic sound of balls being caught and pulses of body percussion and voice. The effect is rather mesmerizing; shapes ripple over the assembled group as the dancers fold themselves out and in, extending limbs in counterpoint to the intricate rhythms. A second sequence is more daring: as the four jugglers create a rapid-fire grid of flying balls thrown to one another, the dancers shoot and spring through the middle with split-second precision.

The plotless piece is more obviously formal than the company’s Pina Bausch-inspired previous show, Smashed, which played at the Linbury in 2012. Moments of humour and outbursts of mischievous knicker-flashing enliven the performance; and impish Erin O’Toole, with her cheeky West Coast tones and way with a Balanchine-esque line, lights up the stage every time she sets pointe on it. The other performers tend to blend cog-like into the grid formations in which they are set; as a whole, 4×4 is more academic and less characterful than the company’s last outing.

A further parallel between juggling and classical dance is revealed accidentally when first-night nerves lead to a couple of flubbed catches; a juggler dropping a club onstage has a similar effect on the audience to a dancer falling off-balance or dropping a partner, in that it momentarily breaks the illusion of flawless grace. Even with one or two errors, however, the skills of the Gandini jugglers is never less than impressive, and previous viewers of the company’s work will already know of the wonderful grace the performers bring to the (seemingly) simplest of tosses.

A new composition by Nimrod Borenstein is beautifully performed by the string ensemble Camerata Alma Viva. There are moments where the dense combination of dance movement, virtuosic juggling and live music becomes too much for the mind to take in at once, and 4×4 might benefit from a bit of unpacking in the studio. The ending is also precisely one minute too long; I would have much preferred to be left with the strong final image (and the satisfaction of realizing how it got there) without the concluding explanation.

Overall, however, 4×4 is a strong show that will certainly appeal to classicists, contemporary circus fans and quite possibly lovers of Euclidean geometry. And that’s no bad thing.

Part of London International Mime Festival, at various venues until 31 January
www.mimelondon.com

Photos: Bettina Strenske

Lise Smith is a dance manager and teacher who writes about dance for many publications, including Londonist, Dancetabs & Arts Professional. Find her on Twitter @lisekit



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