On a night where the term ‘mixed bill’ has never been more appropriate, Emmeline Cresswell’s arresting trio gets things off to a flying start. With swooping, bird-like motifs, three lithe-limbed dancers demonstrate truly admirable stamina as they weave around the stage to Nils Frahm’s powerful piano score. Overlooking the intended, perhaps hackneyed, theme of a search for freedom, I interpret the interaction more as a symbol for friendship. Lifting, assisting, caressing and glancing at each other with warmth and kindness, it seems as though they are helping each other over life’s hurdles – over and over and over again.
Up next is performance artist Tonny A, who presents a fusion of movement and spoken word against a video montage that includes the 2011 London riots and a discourse on immigration by the PM. The subject matter, about the victimisation of the socially vulnerable, is an important point – but one that gets lost under the inevitable veil of awkwardness that falls when a performer decides to take off his clothes. Tonny A walks and writhes on the floor naked, wincing and twitching with every chord of Dávid Somló’s electric guitar. There are tears in his eyes as he takes his bow, moved by his own performance – but sadly, I don’t think anyone else feels the same.
And how do you follow that? With humour of course. Choreographer and performer James Morgan emerges from a box of shredded paper to provide much-needed light relief. In a white shirt and oversized jacket, he parodies the world of self-help through mime, comedy and – eventually – dance. In a slightly manic, camp routine, he enlists the help of the audience, who willingly wave their arms in time, before he ends the piece as a game show host, calculating the profit to reveal that the evening’s performance is a financial success. But is that how success in dance is measured? Irony abounds.
“Has this evening been a flying success or a pointless waste of everyone’s time?” That’s the question posed at the night’s climax by choreographer James Morgan. The answer? Somewhere in between....We start with Emmeline Cresswell’s lovely trio A Rustle of Wings. All fluid tilts, curves and deep chassés, it’s a bit Richard Alston-y (no bad thing), and opens with engaging solos from Rowan Ariel Heather and Jemma Evelyn Gould. The most striking passages are those that don’t feel the need to rush, that say more by saying less. As the pace increases, the girls weave their steps around Paolo Rosini, angelic presences to his earthly male. It’s nicely done, but could do with a stronger sense of direction.
Performance artist Tonny A’s The O Syndrome couldn’t be more different. I’m perplexed about what the ‘O’ stands for, but that’s only the start of it. The confusion begins with Tonny’s story of arriving in London competing against the loud backdrop of David Cameron pronouncing on immigration policy. Just as you think this is a piece about how the voices of the people are drowned out by politics, it turns into Tonny naked, head in hands, crawling the stage, while guitarist Dávid Somló twangs in the background next to a film of feet pounding the pavement. It’s clear this is very meaningful to the choreographer, but it might help if he could find a more effective way to communicate that meaning to us.
James Morgan and collaborator Charley Fone send us off with a smile in the self-referential Ensemble, about the trials of putting on a show. The piece has its patchy moments, but Morgan is a performer with personality and a lot of ideas. There are funny un-motivational mantras (“When one door closes… you’re often locked in a dark room”) and a cheer routine about zero hours contracts (“No expenses!”). There’s definite promise here, so no James, it wasn’t a waste of time.