In a way, Psychoacoustic offered a checklist of what we've come to expect from contemporary dance: electronic music, projections of urban landscapes and the occasional dab of twitchy movement. None of which is necessarily to be deplored, per se; and some of which might very well have been more interesting to watch, had any of what Jack Philp was attempting on his three engaging female dancers been made apparent and visible to the audience. Instead we were offered choreography that, although at times inventive, interesting and refreshingly free from the current zeitgeist of dance movement vocabulary, did little to hide the apparent lack of solid conceptual ideas.
Resolutely movement-based, Oihana Vesga Bujan’s Calle Leganitos happily zipped along to the sound of a Mozart Adagio, Allegro and Rondo, interspersed with occasional moments of silence. The two very able women of the duet stomped and slid their way through often nicely phrased Alston-esque choreography, breezily and playfully shifting between unison and counterpoint. As assured and pleasant as this was for the most part, certain elements — an unfurling of and dancing on a green carpet, recordings of Victor Borge bookending the piece, some slightly ropey music editing which distracted from the choreography — offered little in the way of meaning and muddled the whole.
More twitchy choreography (a go-to dynamic for expressing angst in modern times, it seems) in Family Honour, which was to be the most focused work of the evening. In a solo featuring spoken-word (one section was particularly reminiscent of the prison scene in Lloyd Newson’s John) and pure movement, Asafo-Ajei tackled the themes of slavery, family and identity, and managed, despite a somewhat histrionic performance, a couple of stirring moments. The integration of street dance into the movement was handled in interesting ways and did much to save a work which, although it ultimately suffered from trying to say too much in too little time, showed heart, craft and conviction.
A visual overload bookends Jack Philp’s Psychoacoustic: a film of crowded streets, double- exposures, rapid-cut collages of webpages and pixellated screens. It overloads the choreography too, which is essentially about sound and movement. Each scene has a distinct aural ambience – chiming gongs, breathy flutes, stuttering rhythms – and choreographic idea: a multidirectional solo; a poised duet; trios of unstable spirals, of ordered unison, of happenstance collisions. More a study than a finished work, Psychoacoustic nevertheless accumulates interest through its sparse style and the unforced clarity of its three female performers – but the film wrapper feels like extraneous packaging.
Oihana Vesga Bujan’s Calle Leganitos is as clear as it is opaque. The bookends here are a voice recording of old-time comic Victor Borges, riffing about a Mozart opera. Dancers Elly Braund and Nancy Neratzi perform their highly articulated phrases with an aptly Mozartian precision, and a theatrically rhetorical style: clean diagonal progressions, canons and recursions; decorative flourishes, polite hand-holds, declamatory gestures. Braund rolls out a green carpet, like a piece of lawn. The music is Mozart, interrupted by marked intervals of silence. Everything registers, nothing coheres. Calle Leganitos, by the way, is a street in the Ópera neighbourhood of Madrid. Make of that what you will.
Family Honour, a solo by Kwame Asafo-Ajei, matches clarity to drama. The stage is split into three zones. The introduction takes place in a horizontal upstage strip, Asafo-Ajei upended on his shoulders, legs beetling, face determinedly hidden. He moves to zone 2, a desk at centre stage. His arms, hands, fingers cut across the table, continually dividing and redividing it as he speaks about freedom, discipline, about his mother who was wise and his father who… He shifts stage left, into the unspoken space of his father. Here, he is caged, disciplined, his rictus limbs twitching with suppression, hands beating his own hands. He returns to the table, a horizontal strip of light illuminating his hands, his face determinedly hidden.