Review: Stopgap Dance Company - The Enormous Room - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 2 & 3 March 2017
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Saturday 4 March 2017

Performance reviewed: Thursday 2 March 2017

Stopgap’s The Enormous Room is dance- theatre which explores grief and loss through adept manipulation of bodies, space and furniture, all of which are interrogated through Lucy Bennett’s visceral, textured choreography.

A father (David Toole) and daughter (Hannah Sampson) struggle to come to terms with the sudden death of their wife/mother (Meritxell Checa and Amy Butler). They inhabit a living-room with stained wall-paper and jaded furniture that has, in the gloomy words of Toole, “forgotten how to be used.”  Father and daughter avoid each other at the beginning, too preoccupied with their own pain and memories but towards the end as their space changes, their physical and emotional barriers dissolve.

Toole is holed up in a TV den, slumped on the floor on the inside of an upturned chair.  He only emerges to narrate poetic monologues about his wife. Sampson drifts through the room, erupting occasionally in outbursts of despair and anger; she crouches on a table or throws her upper body over its surface with wild, syncopated hand gestures.  Repetitive sequences of erratic actions and melancholic text convey the tedium and desperation of bodies in mourning. 

Checa and Butler, the doppelganger wife and mother, simultaneously embody the father and daughter’s memories. They dance a quiet duet of frozen gestures, lingering poses and reassuringly familiar actions such as drinking tea. Their presences, both comforting yet unsettling, fluidly seep into every nook and cranny of the room. Sometimes the women mirror each other as their roles of mother and wife merge, but their separate functions are subtly demonstrated through contrasting movement.

Two other characters, Tom (Christian Brinklow) and Chock (Nadenh Poan) distract from the intensity of the family relationships. Tom, possibly the daughter’s boyfriend, is a muscularly sensuous performer who tries to comfort her but never gets quite knows how to help. His frustrations ripple through his body as he perches on a window ledge near Samson’s room or when his naked back emerges on display through a window. Chock is like a cheeky genie, whizzing round the room, contorting himself into impossible positions, grinning effusively. Although his personality is a perplexing one, he lightens the sometimes down-beat energy of the show.

In the same way that the furniture is dismantled and fragmented so are bodies and body parts. Endlessly arranged and rearranged, they are squeezed into tiny cupboards, or under tables. Torsos are folded over legs like origami; hands reach out of drawers or limbs unfurl out of windows. This quirky athleticism lifts the sombre tone of the work and helps it avoid becoming too sentimental. It’s here especially that we see how challenging the choreography is for the non-disabled performers who have to rely heavily on the strength of their arms and upper bodies to match that of Toole’s and Poan’s.  They are all amazingly impressive.

Later, when the ‘room’ has been taken apart and moved aside – it’s a great idea to have the technicians perform alongside the artists, their functional actions juxtaposed with the abstract, dance language -there is more flowing interaction between the protagonists on the open stage, but it lacks the edgy purpose of the first half.

The Enormous room is creatively imaginative and develops our understanding of integrated dance but while there is an appropriate slowness to the work, it does make for moments of tedium and the final section feels too long and slightly unresolved.

Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Insider.

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