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Exim Dance Company The Birth of Memory

LAM Dance Company Sisyphus’ Wife

Backspace Collective  Unbaptised Infants

 

In The Birth of Memory, a work with purpose in its stride, four dancers shift and play between different spatial configurations of Benjamin's bare-boned choreography. Added to this are layers of projections - sometimes words, sometimes abstract imagery that has hints of radiographical imagery - and an atmospheric score of claustrophobic soundscapes. One of the dancers has cerebral palsy, and although the intrinsically abrupt nature of his movement offers an interesting contrast to the easy flow of the rest of the non-disabled cast, as well as some occasionally arresting imagery, the point of the whole exercise is never quite made clear.

Sisyphus' Wife proposes to look at the labour of Camus's Sisyphus, who in Greek mythology was punished for his self-aggrandisement by being forced to push a boulder up a hill for eternity. The lights come up onto Look, as Sisyphus, enacting the above with a petanque-like ball on a small ramp. Dance solo. His wife appears holding an (as-yet) unindentified wooden object. More langorous solos and duets ensue, in which, true to the German Tanztheater form, limbs are extended and yanked, chests swaying, evoking vast Mahleresque landscapes. The transitional sections - the ball, the ramp, the emoting - sadly never quite transcend the mundane, and the choreographic moments, although performed with gusto, fail to convince.

Two women in tracksuit bottoms and disco tops, a mic, a couple of chairs - all we've now come to expect from Western contemporary dance circa 2016. Unbaptised Infants kicks off with some quirky poems, soon followed by dance, as both women adroitely nudge and cut their way through the space in some elegantly structured and phrased choreography. Gradually, the poems that initially irritate with smug cuteness come to serve a larger purpose as the duo take it in turns to dance, and speak and sing onto an ever-expanding sound loop. Clarity of structure appears; neither choreographer knows yet to what purpose, but intelligence shines thoughout.

Mary Clipperton


 

“Contemporary dance” is one of several phrases projected onto the backcloth of Adam Benjamin’s The Birth of Memory. I took it (along with “motif”, “duet”, “time is watching” and suchlike) to indicate that the piece was pointing to itself. Performed by two women and two men – one, with cerebral palsy, performs first in, then out of his wheelchair – the work has several motifs: a turntable arc of the arms, some hand-wringing, backwards walking, watchful circlings, purposeful diagonals. Despite moments of passing beauty and fleeting significance, nothing coheres. “Contemporary dance” can point to its own processes, but to stay inside them risks solipsism.

Adrian Look’s Sisyphus’ Wife is flushed with symbolism and emotion. With the mien of a romantic poet, Look mopes at his desk, rolling a shiny steel ball – the impossible object of unattainable perfection – up a ramp; and watching it roll back down. Maria Ines Sousa, as his wife, has her own object: a brown lump, misshapen, imperfect. She lets it stay put, on a stand. Their duet of crossed paths sees Look reaching and swooning, as restless as the Mahler melody that accompanies him; Sousa clings to and rebuts him, all earthly need and conflicted desire. Fine performances save the piece from becoming overblown.

Lorea Burge and Hannah Parsons’ Unbaptised Infants is random, goofy, low-key and loopy. Taking off trackie jackets to reveal spangly tops beneath, the pair recite rhythmic poems – word salads, really – called “Capitalism”, “Contrast”, “Matter” and so on. Then they do a dancey analogue: quirky, articulated, nonsensical. Using a microphone and live audio playback, they knit random words and moves together into a texture of aural and visual non-sequiturs, eventually adding a layer of humming harmony and finishing with a recitation of the playback words as another poem. The poem makes no sense on its own; compositionally, it makes complete sense. The second the piece is over, you want to watch it again, to figure out how it works with hindsight.

 Sanjoy Roy

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