Although Leila Bakhtali and Keren Smail stand side by side, nodding in time to the same silent beat, they could be worlds apart. Under a self-recorded voiceover, the characters wistfully mime out fantasies of giving birth or growing vegetables, but their ordinary clothes, ordinary goals and ragged delivery make for a pedestrian performance that, despite a commendable dose of head-banging, communicates little joie de vivre. With ambition carving a central theme here, it’s somehow fitting that this piece still has far to go.
In bravery, a notably more refined offering from Simone Damberg Wurtz, the connections between the performers are more apparent. In the aftermath of what appears to be a complicated parachute landing, dancers rise in pairs to test the limitations of the harnesses that bind them. Initially, Wurtz uses her prop well, those knotted strings working to complicate the physical forces available to two bodies. Entangled, the duos transmit security, strangulation and even – from beneath their functional boiler-suits – a looming, restrained sexuality. Once its dancers are freed, bravery loses bite. A flashlight splinters the action into an advertiser’s shorthand: a chest breathing heavily, a pile of lacklustre bodies, figures moving underneath the parachute cloth. When exploring the nuances of bravery and fear, it's a shame to see Wurtz dressing her performers like cheap Hallowe'en ghosts.
An adaptation of a stand-up set about alcoholism may not seem like a laughing matter, but #PPL Dance rises to the challenge with dignity and compassion in Al-Col-Hol. Over a live recording of a Robin Williams gig, the company of eight delivers a heady, shadowy portrayal of a life led under the influence. Thoroughly in command of his intoxicated hip-hop, Michael Starke mimes a tribute to Williams with a vibrant fluidity that illuminates the humour and tragic foresight of the comedian’s set. Against the atmospheric presence of his malleable fellow-performers Starke is, without doubt, the outstanding individual of this piece and of the night.
To paraphrase the programme note for Leila Bakhtali and Keren Smail’s When Wishes Shift, ‘Sometimes dance [original word: life] is a bit like this…’ A bit like what? In this case, sweet-seeming but too meagre and ultimately inconsequential. Although the duet initially features its creators’ clear-spoken voice-overs (a fairly charming recitation of up-beat desires and imaginings) as they wriggle and sweep about the stage, it actually commences with them facing us and nodding. That small action is later extended into increasingly jumpy, grabby and tiresome unison. The pair becomes trapped in motion, as do we. Their onstage connection is fairly agreeable, but by this short piece’s dribbling finish I was wishing they’d asked themselves more rigorous questions about what they were trying to convey.
Amorphousness of a different kind plagued moonlighting Rambert dancer Simone Damberg Wurtz’s bravery . This maundering quintet for earnestly blank dancers in matching blue onesies and harnesses from which sturdy strings trail was apparently inspired by notions of courage and its opposite. It begins and ends with bodies in a pile, as if what transpires in between is a dream of the dead who suffered some disaster. Wurtz’s work evinces mood and a modicum of ghostly visual savvy, thanks to the use of hand-held torches and a large pool of pale, brackish-hued parachute silk strewn upstage, but was too vague and po-faced for it to matter much to me.
Finally with #PPL Dance’sAl-Col-Hol came a piece of some substance – and its abuse. Set in part to a 2002 comic monologue about addictions by Robin Williams, choreographer Dani Harris- Walters’ ensemble study of the negative impact of binge drinking mixes fleet, flip-floppy hip- hop and contemporary dance styles to mainly watchable if not always incisive effect. The four women, treated rather like a physical chorus for men’s antics, are given comparatively short shrift. Michael Starke was a riveting live-wire, however, as the supposed male lead with Harris-Walters himself a pretty close second.