The spoken poetry of The Vast Rocks roots this first piece firmly in rural Devon, but it’s hard to see quite where choreographer Richard Chappell is going. With his rolled up shirt and bare feet, the artist carves a rustic figure as he enters the stage to observe two dancers responding to his verse. Under Aaron Martin’s sound design, which imaginatively incorporates birdsong, chiming, and something like crushed Quavers, Chappell gazes, wistfully, at the duet playing out in front of his hay-bale bench. Despite the dancers’ perennial effort, this contemporary form is a clumsy match for the pastoral setting. More D. H. Lawrence than Wordsworth, this roll in the hay shoots for Romance, but resorts to romp.
Soloist Jodie Cole is certainly more explicit when it comes to discussing what two bodies can do. Part stand-up, part interpretive dance, part fake orgasm, I Am Not In Love collides processed anecdote with unvarnished movement to give a compelling, if not altogether accomplished, coming of age story. At points Cole looks at the mercy of her own choreography, liable to be carried away by her outstretched arms. A solitary tango underlines a certain loneliness, and a cradle led by jilting hips, not arms, hints at maternal failing. In the final moments, which see Cole lying on her back peddling an invisible bike, it’s easy to see where this artist is going – we just need more time see how she got there.
Concluding a piece with a woman’s legs in the air seems to be the theme of the night as, in an echo that can only be coincidental, M.E.N drives towards the same conclusion. For all the suggestion of their name, there’s something rather tepid about this homogeneous, all-female, eight-piece outfit. For Tomorrow We Die has its cute moments, but if more equality is needed, solutions are unlikely to be found while watching eight robe-clad caricatures Charleston to the beat of a court shoe.
Thursday’s Resolution came with an unusual allergy warning. Danger, hay on stage! As a bale was taken to pieces in The Vast Rocks, by Richard Chappell Dance, dust flew and my throat prickled. Who knew I was allergic? The piece, unfortunately, was less revelatory. Chappell intones fragments of poetry about the Devon landscape - “Nearby rise the rocks. As solid as the water is ephemeral.” Then dancers Jordan Ajadi and Olivia Roach, respond with duets that might suggest landscape – fluttering hands, rolling lifts that set softness against force – or need. By the close, they cling together in the strewn hay but the meaning of their actions is never entirely clear.
In Jodie Cole’s I Am Not in Love, on the other hand, meaning is perhaps too obvious. During this danced and spoken monologue about cycling and love she travels the well-trodden ground of unhappy families and thwarted romance. What makes the work surprisingly effective is her appealing personality and the way she finds simple movements that precisely evoke complicated emotion. She races across the stage with excitement at the freedom of running away with her mother; mimicking her distraught father, she jerks like a marionette; the upside down cycling of her legs conjures sadness as well as escape. It made me want to see more.
I’d like to see more too of M.E.N (More Equality Needed), eight women who trickle onto the stage looking like the cast of a 1940s Italian soap opera. In For Tomorrow We Die, they exhibit a range of fears and neuroses, but gradually come together in a perfectly synchronised Charleston. As their steps grow in confidence, they shed their clothes and raise their voices in a tribal rant of assertion – “A woman is a woman” – until the chorus line breaks down and they close in fearful uncertainty. The piece doesn’t get far enough, but I hope the creators will keep going. They’re intriguing.