Review: New Adventures Choreographer Award Showcase - James Cousins

Performance: 7 September 2012
Reviewed by Laura Dodge - Monday 10 September 2012

New Adventures Choreographer Award. Showcase: James Cousins. Photo: Mikah Smillie

Founded in 2010 to celebrate Matthew Bourne’s 50th birthday, the New Adventures Choreographer Award has been set up to support emerging choreographers. The winner receives twelve months of funding and mentoring to enhance their craft – and the winner of the first Award (and runner up) presented a showcase of work on the main stage at Sadler’s Wells on Friday (7 September)

Award winner James Cousins showed three works. The third was so mesmerising its 20 minute length passed by in what seemed like seconds. There we have been explored the troubled relationships portrayed in Haruki Murakami’s novel, Norwegian Wood. In low lighting, dancer Lisa Welham was held constantly off the floor by partner Aaron Vickers. In a duet of exquisite beauty and strength, Welham was supported through all manner of poses from high leg extensions to seated embraces and wrapping her body around her companion. Always progressing fluidly but with varying speed of movement, the couple’s relationship was open to infinite viewer interpretations, but the female’s dependence on the male was unrelenting. The piece reached a haunting end as Welham’s fragile figure hovered in the air, gesturing towards her partner and he walked away, finally free.

It would be hard to over-praise this work, with its passionate and evocative choreography; it was simply one of the most stunning contemporary dance pieces I have ever seen. Cousins hasn’t found his particular style across works yet, but he is an undoubtedly clever choreographer. Most impressive was his capacity to create compelling choreography within the confines of selected movement restrictions and I hope he will continue to explore this. It will be fascinating to see how his work evolves.

His other two pieces were less striking. In Here in Darkness, students from The Place’s CAT (Centre for Advanced Training) programme displayed excellent technique and precision. The choreography was vibrant and animated but lacking a clear focus; Everything and Nothing , opened with a huddled group of dancers swaying and twisting, their movement limited by arms wrapped around their bodies. This powerful idea was revisited throughout the work, but for the most part the choreography used a more typical contemporary dance vocabulary, without the same innovation and appeal.

Tom Jackson Greaves, the runner up to the first New Adventures Choreographer Award, was also part of the showcase in an engaging performance of his solo Vanity Fowl . His choreography explored a young man’s attempts at social integration, starting with a video clip of the dancer gazing awkwardly towards a room full of party guests. Onstage, Jackson Greaves then began vigorously and repeatedly shaking hands with an invisible man, whose unkind responses, including “you’re so sweaty”, were relayed via voice-over. Endearingly, the dancer apologised and banged his head, desperately attempting to please this imaginary party companion. The character was then transformed, putting on a mirrored-jacket to gain confidence, but becoming frantic rather than socially-adept. We were left with the image of a floor-bound broken man being showered with mirrored confetti and the question ‘why do we seek acceptance from others rather than ourselves’? Jackson Greaves is a highly perceptive choreographer as well as talented performer and it will be interesting to see how his work develops in the future.

Matthew Bourne also came on stage himself between performances to talk about the award and to thank the many people who have supported it. Determined to continue developing “fresh young talent”, Bourne is already on the hunt for further funding for the 2013 New Choreographer Award and will be accepting applications from next year.

James Cousins Q&A

Laura Dodge writes for a number of magazines and websites including Dancing Times, and English National Ballet’s Dance is the Word blog. She has an MA in Ballet Studies and also teaches dance to children in central London.

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