Review: Resolution 2016 opening night - The Place

Performance: 8 January 2016
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Monday 11 January 2016

Crystal Zillwoo, Evolutio
Photo: Josh Hawkins

Performances reviewed: 11 January 2016

Evolutio – Crystal Zillwood
Jazz Scene – Traceworks
An Apple a Day – Sarah Louise Kristiansen

The advent of a new year again heralds the Terpsichorean beast that is the biggest, and perhaps the best, annual festival of new contemporary dance theatre. It’s the only New Year Resolution worth keeping.

Many of us resolve to lose some weight at this time of year and Resolution has also slimmed down, now 27 years-old, it has reduced to 26 shows, containing 78 new productions; down from the XXXL-sized 102 new works of a few years’ ago. But, even with every Monday off and a mid-term break, it’s still a marathon enterprise that will endure until late February.

This year’s festival opened neither with a bang, nor a whimper; in a rare, complete programme of relatively unembellished pure dance, beginning with a brave solo, leading into two larger scale, ensemble works. Choreography was perhaps the least consistent of the creative skills on display across the evening: each work suffered from some ‘dead’ moments, temporarily losing connections – both within the piece and with the audience – but they all enjoyed other attributes, not the least through a series of engaging performances; and in theatrical structures that generally opened strongly and finished well.

The honour of opening the festival fell to Crystal Zillwood, a graduate of the Northern School of Contemporary Dance and former member of its postgraduate dance company (Verve 13). Since graduating, Zillwood has built up an impressive list of credits (working with Ben Wright, Theo Clinkard, Gary Clarke and New Art Club amongst others) and on the basis of this well-structured, thoughtful solo, it is clear to see why her intelligent creativity might be in demand.

Evolutio develops through repetitive movement sequences that explore the evolutionary connections between humans and other primates. It’s stated as a rather blunt concept but one given sharper focus by the absorbing skills of the performer. Zillwood has a fresh and natural presence. She dances in everyday clothing, building up layers of movement with seamless, fluid sequences of diverse activity, all delivered with an intuitive affinity to well-chosen music (Nigel Kennedy performing Goran Bregovic’s Ederlezi).

The origins of the middle work were closer to home since Julian David Lewis – the driving force behind Traceworks – is both an alumni of the London Contemporary Dance School and a former member of its graduate dance company, EDge. Jazz Scene was made in association with his five fellow performers, using various tracks by the Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra as their inspiration. The product is an attractive and playful suite of six dances delivered by a spirited and engaging group of dancers.

It started a little messily. The opening number used one of the best-known pieces from the ragtime era (Twelfth Street Rag) and the speed and syncopation (the ragged rhythms that gave the genre a nickname that stuck) was a notable challenge to the dancers. Instead of flowing seamlessly alongside the harmonic progression of the music, there were some dead beats and awkward lifts. But, nerves diminishing, it improved considerably by the time of a frolicking, upbeat Teddy Bear’s Picnic, followed by a body-popping solo of great strength and expressiveness from Sabrina Gargano.

Although born in Denmark, Sarah Louise Kristiansen is yet another product of English higher education dance faculties, having graduated from Kingston University, in 2012. Her work, An Apple a Day, was performed by a cast of seven young women. It was the only piece in which the choreographer was not also a performer. There is a purpose to this observation, since Kristiansen has an holistic approach to creating a theatrical experience. Her work had an inventive and varied lighting design (by Nick Herman) that fluctuated from the house lights suddenly up to pinpoints of spotlight and oblong channels of illumination. The surrounding darkness concealed the mysterious arrival of a bumper crop of a hundred or more apples, suddenly appearing with the light, as embossed dots across the stage. It was a work avowedly about the ‘emotional leftovers of unrequited love’ although I generally failed to see these connections. Visually, however, it was the strongest of the three works.

This opening night of Resolution 2016 augurs well for a feast of dance theatre to come and also provides a strong testament to the creative quality of graduates emerging from dance higher education in England. In addition to those starting out on their careers, this year’s Resolution enables a choreographic experience for already well-established dancers, amongst whom you might look out for Amelia Forrest (former soloist with Baltic Dance Theatre), in Amma Dance Theatre on 13 January; former Richard Alston and current Rambert dancer, Pierre Tappon on 23 January; and former Merce Cunningham and Michael Clarke dancer, Julie Cunningham, on 10 February.

Resolution 2016 continues at The Place until Friday 19 February 2016

Photo of Crystal Zillwoo: Josh Hawkins

Graham Watts is a freelance dance writer and critic. He is a regular contributor to Dancing Times and also writes for, and other magazines and websites in Europe, Japan and the USA. He is chairman of the dance section of the Critics’ Circle in the UK and of the National Dance Awards.
Twitter: @gwdancewriter

What’s On