It’s all about the costumes tonight. An amorphous mound of clothing lies on the floor in Maud Brambach’s Sous Influence, that throbs and heaves as it births four women in underwear. Their relationship with the clothes turns out to be… complicated. The garments are chic, feminine numbers: slips, tops, and one particular crimson cocktail dress that seduces and possesses each in turn, inducing a haunted sensuality in one, a scrabbling repulsion in another. Though it sometimes diffuses its own force and focus, Sous Influence picks away at the seam between women’s experience and their appearance, intimating the uneasy co-dependencies between their bodies and their clothes. Who’s wearing who?
In her adagio solo Be My Home, Konstantina Skalionta wears misshapen cushions that bulge about her body like tuberiferous outgrowths. She cradles them protectively, or gracefully extends her arms as if the cushions were a bud and she the flower. Sometimes she caresses them, tracing their outlines out into the air around her. But they also constrain her, penning her like a caged songbird, hobbling her feet or weighing her down as she tries to walk. A hushed, introspective piece – you sense more going on inside Skalionta’s head than on the stage – Be My Home nevertheless builds a poetic and intriguing ambivalence.
After so much atmospheric evocation, Ben Logan’s Smirk for Friction Dance Theatre delivers a welcome gut-punch. The five dancers have their heads swathed in bandages, their bodies shrink- wrapped in tattered cellophane. They could be the living dead – not the shuffling corpses of classic zombie movies but the dynamic figures of 28 Days Later: they strike comic-strip action poses, all poised crouches and thrusting limbs. Logan has a fine time marshalling them into marauding lines, jump-cutting and replaying their flails and gouges. Then he has them slow and stop and clump together, peeling and picking at their plastic coating as if wondering – for just a bit too long, actually – who they really are.
Four women try on a red dress, succumbing to its symbolism differently. A group of crêpe-and-clingfilm clad aliens struggle through a violent genesis. A lone dancer is looped by misshapen cushions, alternately soothing and constraining her. Tonight’s performances were a striking amalgamation of physical theatre and costume design, with some pieces forming a more coherent whole than others.
The dress of Sous Influence was passed between the four performers; one woman was rendered frantic by it, another seductive and laconic. From its sensual but self-indulgent opening – a heaving laundry pile birthing four underwear-clad women – to its dramatic but sometimes overwrought spoken word pieces, Sous Influence was a lesson in the dangers of pitching the emotional temperature of a piece at maximum heat throughout, but remained a sincere, passionate commentary on the schism between women’s interiority and appearance.
A more cohesive aesthetic and narrative appeared in the thrilling Smirk, whose costume, staging and music all evoked a sci-fi dystopia without actually forcing the ‘aliens/alienation’ pun down our throats. Five figures with bandaged faces enact a rolling confrontation. They stared down the audience, aggressively contorted themselves and shadowboxed with one another, moving with exquisite sharpness and grim grace. The second half, which saw the figures slow down and pull off their costumes, hatching into something more human, went on for too long but made a powerful contrast to the initial brutal birth.
Konstantina Skalionta’s beautiful, meditative Be My Home showcased a performer of remarkable mimetic range and control. This piece was almost a duet between Skalionta and the soft, bulging, curiously organic rings that she carried and moved about her person. Skalionta became a jerking, birdlike creature anxious to escape the shackles they formed around her ankles, a lover of the hearth moving with elegant fluidity as she caressed her cushions, and a broken Sisyphus weighed down by her burdens. Be My Home felt like a glimpse into some private room, and we were well-rewarded for our curiosity.