A piece which grapples with some ‘serious questions of consciousness’ sounds like hard work, but Marguerite Galizia succeeds in making it anything but in Where am I? – using an entertaining and convoluted narrative of a man’s separation of brain and body to pose these complex ideas. A tightly woven structure carefully cultivates our expectations, utilising movement and voiceover to first set up and then break patterns of association. It is Dan Watson who leads the audience through this series of mental gymnastics as he recounts his story – engaging us as he makes us laugh and transfixing us with his beautifully precise and fluid movements. Both visually and cerebrally, Where am I? is a piece which demands your attention and sustains it.
Dragging Words was similarly methodical in its underlying structure, providing freedom to enjoy the playful, slightly bizarre selection of ideas proposed to us. There is a great deal of charm in Joel O’Donoghue and Pete Yelding’s performance – a sort of understated humour expressed in moments such as Yelding singing through a child’s megaphone (purple with red flashing lights) with fervent solemnity. This charm, and the beautiful composition of images, coaxes us into an acceptance of the inexplicable and delight in the non-sequitur. A slightly abrupt ending only serves to intensify our desire to see more.
The subject of masculinity is a very thoroughly explored concept in the world of dance but rarely is it articulated as compellingly as in Protocal Dance Company’s Manhood. Five men with brooding eyes and a sense of barely suppressed tension begin this work. A suggestion of power, violence and destruction pervades the air. This seriousness is broken as the dancers transform from menacing figures to giggling boys – a transformation which is hilariously authentic. Laughing moves to crying towards the end of the piece as the vulnerability which lies beneath the performance of masculinity is revealed. As a concept it is hardly innovative but the strength and conviction of the performance renders it extremely powerful.
If your brain and body were physically separated but still communicated via transceivers, where would 'you' be? The conundrum was posed by philosopher Daniel Dennett in a thought-experiment in which his body leaves his brain to retrieve a warhead that destroys cerebral tissue; and it also sets the scene for Marguerite Galizia’s Where Am I? Dan Watson is the 'I' in question, acting out the plot in circuits of the stage. But he – oddly, effectively – 'dissociates', the narration flicking between speech and voiceover, the story rebooting and ending up in different places, his body becoming a flipbook of nervy gesticulations as he switches from bemused enquirer to bewildered subject. Watson’s seemingly casual management of this multiplicity is virtuosic. The result is both very brainy and rather wonderful.
Rather wonderful too is dancer Joel O’Donoghue and musician Pete Yelding’s gently captivating duet Dragging Words. It too feels philosophical, or at least mystical. Yelding triggers swelling sound loops – a bassline, bowed strings, ambient chords, chants; O’Donoghue starts with a chewing noise which he expands – strangely, naturally – into stretchy gestures and curving crouches. A little echo-chamber of sound and action. Later, the pair sit on chairs, torsos pitching like dipping-bird toys as their disjointed, dippy dialogue keeps returning to the word 'silence'. Music and dance return, and now they intone 'silence' like a mantra. Beautifully done, and kind of revelatory too: whereof we cannot speak, thereof we remain… sound, image, voice, body.
Protocol Dance Company’s Manhood treads more familiar ground: an exploration of masculinity in street-dance style. The five guys begin rooted, their beating chests, rictus stomps and lashing arms exposing the cocktail of emotion, antagonism and restraint at the heart of krump. Choreographically more interesting are a series of tag-games that exaggerate the posturing, laughter, camaraderie and combativeness of their group dynamics, but the ending – two gasping men, suffering, alone, alienated – sounds a more obvious note. The piece certainly packs a punch, but offers only wiggle-room for nuance.