Review: HeadSpaceDance at Linbury Studio Theatre

Performance: 6 - 11 Sept 2012
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Sunday 9 September 2012

HeadSpaceDance. Photo: Urban Joren

Take three of the most expressive and elegant dancers imaginable, add six servings of dance by four of the best contemporary choreographers at work today and here is a cocktail that was bound to be new and exciting. On a remarkably warm evening it would have been better served slightly chilled but even the oppressive levels of gradually simmering heat in the depths of the Royal Opera House couldn’t spoil the enjoyment of an excellent programme.

Chris Akrill and Charlotte Broom have known each other for years, at least 20 as we learn from the dialogue that intersperses Luca Silvestrini’s After the Interval – one of five world premieres on the bill. Akrill and Broom have followed each other around the dance world, performing with the same companies (Northern Ballet Theatre and Cullberg Ballet) and in the same shows (Cathy Marston’s Ghosts and Javier de Frutos’ The Most Incredible Thing being just two of the more notable examples); and so what better next step than to start up on their own, with this the inaugural season of their company, HeadSpaceDance. Clemmie Sveaas (the Princess from The Most Incredible Thing) joins them as a guest for this opening programme. Two more incredible things struck me in the heat. First was that these three performers managed to establish an intimate and empathetic accord with their audience without any artificial attempt to breach the third wall; and, second, is that just these three dancers gave a full evening programme that was always absorbing, often innovative, routinely funny and built a momentum that never flagged. Given the circumstances, it is remarkable that the show didn’t seem a moment too long.

Dutch choreographer, Didy Veldman was invited to create a solo on each of the three performers under the title In the Skin I’m In with each brief work capturing some personal essence of the performer. Broom plays with a giant duvet, twisting and falling into it, burrowing under it and whipping up a billowing sail; her kittenish joy interrupted by the spoken random thoughts of everyday life. Akrill chose the third of Satie’s Gymnopedies to give the platform for a typically energetic and eclectic range of movement ending with him taking a plastic bag from his pocket, finishing his lunch and then tying the bag into a balloon, which he blows across the stage. The Veldman snippet of Sveeas left us guessing about this mysterious under-lit woman, slipping on and off stage almost unnoticed.

The evening had begun with Studies in M , choreographed by De Frutos, using Bach’s Concerto for Oboe and Violin in an iterative process that begins three times with the dancers interlinking arms (think of the four cygnets in Swan Lake but where one failed to show). We see the energy convulsing through the trio in a symbiotic flow as they come to the very front of the stage. But when the positions are reset for the third and final time, we also see how their dynamic changes so that the linked arms restrain movement. De Frutos has worked with these dancers before and one senses a happy reunion bearing fruit in this fascinating triptych of dance studies that are heavily flavoured with the idiosyncrasies of each performer.

After the Interval is yet another entry on the much-trodden path of parodying performance in a show about a show; beginning with the performers sweeping the stage and going through their warm-ups as the audience piled back in from the break. However, with Silvestrini’s observational genius at the helm, this turns into a highly inventive, personal and unique piece in which the curtain calls and the now ubiquitous post-performance Q&A session take place within the show itself. The whole exercise was witty and creative and provoked the audience – in the nicest of ways – to become part of the performance. We even applauded on cue for the bogus curtain calls and stopped at an invisible signal that caused the biggest laughter of the evening, even if we were effectively laughing at our own joke!

The final piece was the only one not made specifically for this programme, being a reworked version of Mats Ek’s duet from Light Beings (1991), danced by Broom and Akrill. There are further biographical significances here since Ek is the son of Birgit Cullberg (and, in fact, Light Beings was the second part of a trilogy dedicated to Ek’s mother and father). Ek reworked the piece in 2003 as a competition entry for two young Cullberg dancers, which is more or less the format of the duet shown here. It is joyful and quirky, with choreography that fits the celebratory anthem of Sibelius’ Andante Festivo like a glove, balancing balletic movement with images of swimming, cartwheels and lovely sequences of the dancers reaching out jauntily with extreme outstretched steps as their bodies lean backwards into turned-out shoulders. The two dancers have to work closely with each other in a spiralling set of precisely co-ordinated movements. Andante Festivo is a mini-masterpiece of Sibelius (played for his niece’s wedding) and Ek has created his own miniature gem to match it. It is a brief – no more than five minutes – but very powerful end to a wholly satisfying evening.

The dance world is an ever-changing landscape – and ironically I saw this programme on the day I heard of the demise of one of its commissioning bodies, ROH2, was announced [more ] – but I have confidence that HeadSpace Dance can become an enduring feature. Their only problem is how to top an opening programme that is about as good as it gets.

Three & Four Quarters
ROH2, Linbury Theatre, continues 10 & 11 Sept; 7.45pm
Tickets: £20, £17, £14, standing £8.50, Student £11.50
Box Office 0207 304 4000

Read our Q&A with Christopher Akrill

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