Review: HeadSpaceDance - If Play is Play... - Linbury Studio Theatre

Performance: 16 - 24 April 2014
Reviewed by Lara Hayward - Tuesday 22 April 2014

HeadSpaceDance 'If Play is Play..' 
Clemmie Sveaas & Jonathan Goddard. Photo: Urban Jören

HeadSpaceDance – directed and curated by dancers Christopher Akrill and Charlotte Broom – present their new programme If Play Is Play… , a dance-drama collaboration with actor, playwright and director Matthew Dunster and choreographers Luca Silvestrini and Johan Inger. Akrill, Clemmie Sveaas, Gemma Nixon and Jonathan Goddard perform an exciting programme, kicking off with Two , a blink- and- you’ll –miss- it piece by Swedish choreographer Johan Inger. Chris Akrill and Gemma Nixon dance this moody duet with a cold sort of perfection, precisely mirroring the tune of Arvo Pärt’s haunting Silouans Song. Although beautifully atmospheric, it creates a sense of detached unease and I was left wondering where HeadSpace would go next.

In a surprising about turn, Luca Silvestrini’s Before the Interval invites us in by encouraging the dancers to question their relationship with the audience and how we receive them as performers. It opens with Clemmie Sveaas’ discussing her position in the company – “well my face is right at the front of the poster” while she conducts a slinky mime across the floor, all contortion and twists. In an inspired piece of comic timing, Sveaas optimises her impossible double-jointedness as she jauntily tells us it “feels very natural” to be part of HeadSspace. It was the first time I’d seen Sveaas perform and her cheeky energy and overwhelming charm were perfectly pitched in this wonderful piece of comic choreography.

The pace continues with the arrival of Akrill and new company dancer Jonathan Goddard. They take it in turns to outdo each other, massaging their own egos and looking increasingly uncomfortable when one leaps higher than the other. We get into each of their minds as all three performers enlighten us with the questions they ponder when creating work – “Do we look good together?” “Does this look real?”. Akrill is particularly good here – as he throws himself into a groin-crushing superman flight along the stage floor the piece takes on a cartoonish skit quality that the comedians in Whose Line Is it Anyway would be proud of. All three take the everyday concerns of a creative collaborative team and make them very funny, and when they get the call “Guys, interval!” I do not want it to finish.

Excited about what was to come next, HeadSpace messed with our heads again by closing with The Days the Nights the Wounds and the Night which turned out to be one serious dance-drama. A reflection on “what it is to be a dancer in…London” this collaboration with playwright Matthew Dunster certainly had a theatrical stamp. Goddard’s duet with Nixon creates a catalytic slow-burn heat that results in Sveaas suffering severe frustration and heartbreak. By punching and pushing her way through the choreography, she expertly plays out the pain of infidelity, and the consequences of masking it from others while, oblivious to it, life goes on around her.

Lighting Designer Simon Bennison’s triplicate strips of light, coupled with the cacophony of inane chat, convincingly swamp Sveaas as she breaks down in the middle of the stage. Each of the HeadSpace collaborator’s crafts coming together to create a very effective portrait of a dancer alone in the big city. It felt so emotive and intense that by the end I wanted to give Sveaas a hug.

After the wit, honesty and playfulness of Before the Interval, this final piece felt somewhat overstated and a tad too long for me. It was also hard not to question whether there was a tenuous link to the earlier piece – is going through real emotion the only way to convey the reality of emotion through dance? That said, the members of HeadSpace have no need to worry about whether “they look good together”. Their many accomplishments and versatility are obvious and when combining comedy with movement, they are simply sublime together.

Continues at Linbury Studio Theare, Royal Opera House until Thursday 24 April

Photos: Urban Jören

Lara Hayward is a freelance dance, sport and travel writer, who recently took part in Resolution! Review at The Place. Read more from her at

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