Review: Dance 3 in Tanja Raman + Dbini Industries/Darren Ellis/Douglas Thorpe at The Place & touring

Performance: 29 April 2010
Reviewed by Lise Smith - Friday 30 April 2010

Madchester, orbital parties and the Second Summer of Love may be distant memories for some of us, but the glowstick culture was alive and well at the Robin Howard Theatre tonight. Whether it was the bright white lights attached to various parts of Tanja Råman’s body, or the whirling orange-lit drumsticks of Darren Ellis, there was something about this programme that made me want to head to the nearest warehouse wearing a funny hat and rave until dawn.

Dance3 is a new national tour of short works by emerging artists, sending a total of nine pieces to venues around the UK in a triple-bill format. Tonight brought us two solos, one ensemble work, and a lot of video trickery. The bill kicks off with Tanja Råman’s Traces, combining a live solo performance with motion-capture and video projection. The piece plays with ideas of visibility and obscurity; Råman’s body is at first only dimly visible, the lights worn on each hand and one ankle marking out the traces of her body in space, which are then frozen on the gauze in video form. As she shifts and slides around the stage, the dancer’s body is at first revealed by the sidelights, and then gradually erased by the image of her light traces projected onto the gauze.

Råman has a supple and articulate body and a serene stage presence, but Traces runs rapidly out of ideas, the dancer repeating the same looping phrases (occasionally backwards) over and over again. Had this been ten minutes shorter it might have been quite a diverting little piece, but the more Råman wipes herself on and off the giant gauze screen, the more you wish she’d just make her mind up about whether to stay or go.

Darren Ellis’s drumsticks enter stage right, twirling like fireflies in the orange glow. As in the first piece, the dancer remains invisible for the first section and lets the sticks do the dancing. Once the lights are up, Ellis dons a natty military jacket and marches in a circle, feet stomping on the stage as his sticks pound an invisible drum. In Sticks and Bones, a disembodied voice takes the performer through a series of percussion drills that grow increasingly unlike drumming, the drumstick beating on the back of the dancer’s head as his arms flail wildly through space. The subject-matter is played for laughs but doesn’t always hit home: a joke about holding the stick near the crotch goes down like a lead bongo. It’s a shame, because Ellis doesn’t need cheap laughs – Sticks and Bones is a work of precision co-ordination and genuine charm.

There’s a deal more gravity to Douglas Thorpe’s A Mind As Beautiful, in both senses. The piece sensitively takes on the difficult subject of schizophrenia, and a great deal of the movement material involves the dancers giving in suddenly to an irresistible force weighing them down. Thorpe’s four female performers are all excellent, grasping at themselves and pulling tortured limbs up at strange angles, their bodies hemmed in by a sofa, a wall and a seemingly inescapable box of light on the stage floor. Again and again the women throw themselves to the floor, run into the wall that won’t budge, and pull at their garments, until one by one they leave the stage in a state of bleak desolation. It’s not a joyful piece, by any means, but it’s certainly an arresting one.

Dance3 tours nationally until 29 May **”“:

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