Review: Vera Tussing - T-Dance - The Place

Performance: 7 & 8 May 2014
Reviewed by Samantha Whitaker - Thursday 8 May 2014

Vera Tussing 'T Dance' Photo: Chris Nash

Would you like to be lifted? Spiritually or physically? As an audience member at Vera Tussing’s T-Dance, you have the opportunity to try both. Following on from her phenomenally successful installation Sound Bed – where individuals lie on a moving platform, eyes closed, and are moved through different ‘sound rooms’ to explore the link between sound and the senses – the talented choreographer and performer has brought that intimate audience connection into a bigger space. This time, she is exploring tactility – our need to touch and to be touched – in a piece of clever and compelling structured improvisation.

Four performers – Ben McEwen, Meri Pajunpää, Zoltan Vakulya and Tussing herself – enter the space connected by four wooden rods balanced between their upper arms. Using only a handful of commands – ‘left’, ‘right’, ‘me’, ‘us’ – they manoeuvre around the stage as a unit, performing a series of increasingly complex actions without breaking contact. If a rod drops, they ‘pause’, work together to ‘reset’, then ‘continue’. Like a stylised team-building exercise, they must communicate clearly and work together to stay connected.

Eventually, the canes are discarded, allowing the four to move closer together to touch and caress each other. One by one, they take turns to pick out an audience member by describing their clothing and tell them the action they are performing on them, using each other to demonstrate. As things become more intimate, moving from ‘We’re holding hands’ to ‘I’m sliding my hand down your thigh’, the sense of anticipation causes goose pimples, proving quite literally the effect of words on physical senses.

Following a short aural interlude, where rotating skipping ropes in the dark create a whirring crescendo, the audience are invited to join in a recording of David Bowie’s Space Oddity (which they do), while the four dancers engage in a series of fluid and carefully considered duets and trios. Using a single cane to connect, but also maintain distance, they explore different points of contact, weaving, rolling, supporting and, importantly, touching at all times. As the track ends, they come together to lift and carry each other in turn, then invite audience members to either imagine being lifted (as they elevate an imaginary person), or to come down and actually be carried around the stage in their arms.

During the final section, which includes some jerky and awkward but very beautiful dance sequences, we see how difficult it is for the performers to maintain contact with the rods when moving quickly – perhaps hinting at the challenge we face to stay connected with each other in such a frantic and fast-paced world. As their pace of movement slows in time to Jeff Buckley’s rendition of Be Your Husband, recorded live in a busy restaurant, the background buzz and chatter in the soundtrack provide a social context to the movement as well as a rhythm, taking the performance out of the clinically white box space into the real world.

Still connected, they gradually move towards and then penetrate the audience to connect a rod with someone’s palm in the third row. But this is as invasive as it gets: Tussing isn’t a fan of intrusive immersive theatre, preferring to keep things ‘on the level of gentle flirting, rather than grabbing’. The performance is subtle and clever, managing to be both lighthearted and thought-provoking – although in a post-performance chat, Tussing is keen to point out that this is just the beginning. “It’s only the second performance of the initial proposal,” she says. “As the piece is performed to more audiences, it will grow and evolve.” If this is where it starts, it’s exciting to think where T-Dance will go.

T-Dance is part of Spring Loaded at The Place, which brings together some of the most inventive new dance makers currently working in the UK. If you buy tickets for two shows, with the ‘Explorer’ offer you’ll get one half price

More on Vera Tussing

Samantha Whitaker is an editor and freelance writer. Find her on Twitter @swhit1985

Main photo: Chris Nash (detail)

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