Review: Jonathan Lunn in Reading Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall, Soutbank Centre

Performance: 5 & 6 Jun 08
Reviewed by Libby Costello - Tuesday 10 June 2008

Many unusual features surrounding this piece – the star studded audience, the involvement of a BAFTA and Golden Globe award winning actress, the use of youth/post graduate dance groups, plus it’s dedication to the late Anthony Minghella. Yet this glittering occasion came from a humble Place Prize finalist duet – Self Assembly (2006).

A figure, slightly shadowed behind a back mesh screen, turns a page and begins to read; from the onset it is clear that Peter Mumford‘s lighting design plays an integral role in this work. Billy Collins’ Aristotle, an apt text for this moment, opened Junathan Lunn‘s Reading Room, delivered by the recognisable voice of Miranda Richardson. The discussion of beginnings, setting up the hope of a narrative, introduces the audience to the first burst of text and movement.

A woman’s solo, consisting of Graham like contractions slightly titled off the vertical, becomes a heavy feature of the initial movement section, focusing the attention on the dancers form. Joined briefly by other company members, the movement became multilayered until a brief uncertain duet materialised between Chris Rook and Carly Best. The organic movement, from a contemporary genre, took on intriguing dynamics from current popular dance, drawing on poses, repetition and cropped phrases to punctuate the sound score.

Lunn’s second section, Stirring Still, used a different relationship between reader and dancer, movement and text. Black mesh screen were used to create a small room centre stage, enclosing the reader, a dancer and some minimalist set. The words of Samuel Beckett‘s text gave structure and meaning to Chris Evans movement – giving us insight into a dark world plagued with doubt. Resembling a scene from a Steven Berkoff play, poignant lines were embodied as Evan’s left his enclosure to travel the stage.

The framing of the next section, Off Screen, came purely from the music – a mixture of Slipper and DJ Shadow. Once again the dynamics of Hip Hop managed to be entwined into very lyrical contemporary dance. The five dancers continually manoeuvre the black screens, creating linear material in which poses were struck to voiceovers in multiple languages. The screens were used to create different spaces or rooms; allowing spoke like arm gestures to litter the stage, as familiar yet somehow innovative movement was displayed.

The main variable of Reading Room is the performers for Disassembly, a group section set to music by Tom Ze. In London, EDge Dance Company, the postgraduate group from the Place had the honour, delivering a very well rehearsed piece but perhaps without the definition of Lunn’s own company. The section could have been stand alone, yet still worked within the context of the whole piece, with the exploration of closeness and intimacy reflecting the readings and prior movement.

The piece was brought full circle as Richardson continued reading Collins’ Aristotle. Talk of the end, a final halt for the relationship explored, was contrasted by Matmos and Scanners‘ light techno style music, giving way to quirky hand and arm gestures by the dancers. Both movement and music fitted well as multiple scenarios emerged and dissolved on stage.

Reading Room was brought to a close by its initial starting point – the duet, Self Assembly, a finalist for the Place Prize from 2006 which was pipped at the post by Nina Rajarani’s QUICK! With the original text written and read by Anthony Minghella, this piece took on a new reflective quality. The humour of Minghella’s text remained even after subsequent viewings coupled with the passage of time, and the partnership between Best and Evans (replacing the original dancer, Tam Ward) was as strong as ever.

The spoken instruction to assemble an unknown product dryly informed us to ‘identify ends marked a, then identify ends marked b’; introducing the dancers are they responded to their vocal manipulation. Mumford’s blocks of solid light resembled a flattened cardboard box, on which the action took place – allowing two soloists to build their duet. These IKEA style sterile instructions became the analogy for relationships, tying the themes of the evening in a neat bow.

Lunn brought an extremely polished piece to the stage at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, giving audiences a chance to see contemporary choreography at its best. The touring of this work is also an exciting prospect as this type of work often stays London bound. Reading Room clearly demonstrates that Lunn’s choreography is never dull, overly long nor self congratulatory. It is simply all it needs to be – seamless.

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