Review: Union Dance in Heaven on Earth at Linbury Studio

Performance: 27 & 28 Mar 07
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Wednesday 28 March 2007

During the interval, I looked around an exhibition of paraphernalia celebrating the 21st anniversary of this dynamic little company and came across a review of a performance it gave in 1988 by Jane King, then dance correspondent of The Morning Star (ironically, I had only that morning read that Jane died earlier this year). It struck me that much of what she reported then is still true now and eerily pre-empted many aspects of the first of this double bill, Tayeb Benamara’s Sublime Element. The particular synergy was in its cultural diversity flowing from a distinctly African core and the fascination of its striking, almost hypnotic, visual effect. That these values hold true almost 20 years later testifies to the vital integrity of a company that educates and trains, as much as it performs. It could also, I suppose, indicate the atrophy of a repertoire that has remained much the same, but any such thought was wiped away by the futuristic influence of the second offering: *Celestial Drawing* created by Michael Joseph, who has danced with the company for all its life.

The dominant image of Sublime Element was the backing scene of a day in the life of a venerable tree standing aloof at the crest of a hill. For quite some time, I assumed that this was a still image but then, accompanied by the sound of flowing water, a flock of birds returned home to roost and one also became aware of subtle cloud movements. By the end, the tree was shrouded in a purple and ochre sky before concluding its day in darkness. The six dancers, augmented by the choreographer’s own guest appearance, began by roaming and cartwheeling across the stage in purposeful and repetitive patterns (not unlike the opening of William Forsythe’s recent ‘Three atmospheric studies…‘) as if parodying life in a busy place. It was inherently tribal and, mimicking the image of the tree and the birds temporarily inhabiting it, the choreography first drew attention to the independence of each participant but then connected them as entirely co-dependent entities, most notably in the memorable lifts which saw one dancer lying flat to the floor, legs extended up to support the upper thighs of his/her (same gender) partner, who hung facing the audience, head down, hands clasping the ankles of feet which were joined together at the soles: in this long-held position, the two dancers created an innovative and totemic shape, aptly hallmarking the work.

Although I enjoyed the generally languid lucidity of Benamara’s choreography, others may find it dull since it deliberately lacks explosiveness. The second work was much more passionate, especially in the three overlapping duets that occupied much of the central section. The movement was a constant flow of diverse styles with Hip-Hop and break-dance mixed into tai chi and an eclectic recipe of Afro-European, urban and contemporary techniques.

The founder and artistic director of Union Dance is Corinne Bougaard who nervously introduced the programme to commemorate this important birthday. She emphasised many of the company’s strengths but overlooked her own ability to create a balanced programme for her audience. The two works here fitted together – and their combined purpose – perfectly, both celebrating the company’s roots and looking forward afresh to what is hopefully a significant future.

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