Review: Touch Wood at The Place

Performance: 17 Sep 09
Reviewed by Libby Costello - Wednesday 23 September 2009

This season Touch Wood, the platform for dance artists to present works in progress, has given 40 leading artists the opportunity to exhibit their work on the bare wooden floor of the Robin Howard Dance Theatre.

All of the four works on offer on Thursday 17 September took full advantage of the opportunity to get feedback on their explorations so far, however h2dance’s experiment with space, audience and movement turned the concept of performance on its head. Victoria Fox, Lila Dance and Mayuri Boonham all kept to more traditional use of the stage, using the opportunity to explore movement ideas in front of an audience with interesting results.

Victoria Fox’s *Fight or Flight*, a duet for Tory East and Thom Rackett, was performed to a mixture of live cello music and recorded classical excerpts. Exploring the polarity between the fight and flight reactions, Fox gave us peaceful unison phrases, tender embraces, dominant male displays and protective passages. The latter half of the work played with touch, leading to East becoming airborne or being carried for most of the piece. The duet teeters on the edge of becoming a traditional male/female dance but this expressive choreographer certainly has the movement vocabulary to steer Fight or Flight away from any clichés.

Any personal reservations I had when seeing an unfinished solo on the programme were quickly dispelled by Lila Dance’s *Here, Still Here, Still*. This writhing solo, which mostly took place on the floor, displaced the dancers’ joints against the wood and like an upturned beetle Carrrie Whitaker’s limbs probed the air. The vocabulary for the main body of the solo was contemporary, yet at times fluid breakdancing moves such as the six step crept in. All in all it was a very watchable solo and one in which choreographer Abi Mortimer clearly choreographed to her dancers’ body.

The next choreographer, Mayuri Boonham, took bharatanatyam as the movement vocabulary for her yet to be titled work. Inspired by the structures and spirits of Indian temples, both theme and movement were closely linked. With such raw material, performed in silence, it was difficult to see where this choreographic journey will end.

h2dance took full advantage of the Touch Wood opportunity, removing all conventions of theatre and dance staging from the equation. Turning the bare wooden stage into a holding space for the audience they encircled, hunted, herded and divided the audience with the use of voice and movement. Billed as Choir Project the movement of the audience became the dance, with each performer directing the next step. It was one of those pieces I’d love to watch in a crowded shopping centre or taking over Trafalgar Square – but as a bewildered audience member the performance was a little too close for comfort!

Touch Wood continues at the Place until the 3rd October, each night bringing a new set of ‘works in progress to the stage.

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