Too much information can be a dangerous thing and had I not read, after the event, that Joelene English's February 11th 1963 was an attempt to enter the psyche of writer Sylvia Plath, my imagination would have felt freer to roam among the memories stirred by English's haunting and detailed work. Built around an immaculately detailed set, its vintage typewriters and curios a scaled down version of Punchdrunk, English created a dusty fairytale, her ashen faced heroine matched by Wayne Summerbell as a stiff-limbed lover straight out of Young Frankenstein. The impression was of an extract from a much longer piece - as it turns out, a Sylvia Plath biopic.
Going by the programme note, co-choreographers Jean Pierre and Viviana Rocha were also trying to bite off more than was ultimately chewed in Unsettled, which came complete with a political backstory involving a bloke called Igor, gangs, corruption, extremes of emotions... but enough already. What Pierre and Rocha actually created in Unsettled was a tightly choreographed group piece, ably performed by six dancers, which mixed elements of hip hop and martial arts to create the sense of a tightly wound spring, the dancers splitting into factions, their movements syncing and unsyncing as they split into factions. Enhanced by Pierre's striking lighting design, Unsettled was a lean and hungry dance beast. But Igor? no idea.
Alex Broadie wisely kept the backstory to a minimum with Apocalypse Y. Well, what do you say about a dance that's tackling the end of the world? Sound heavy? Not a bit of it. Leavened with tongue in cheek wit - a dance interpretation of Justin Bieber being ripped apart by feral dogs tapped into my evil inner chuckle - Apocalypse Y was the feelgood hit of the night, its livewire six pack of dancers meeting imminent doom head on by dancing as if their lives depended on it. It's the best way to go.
Getting an audience to laugh in the opening thirty seconds of a dance piece is impressive... Alex Broadie's irreverent Apocalypse Y opens with the announcement: 'BBC1's round-the-clock coverage of the apocalypse concludes with The End of the World.' Comic momentum is sustained by a nonchalant front-of-stage clubbing scene, as if 'to camera', a well-timed slap during a group partner dance, and some clownish pliés to ever-quickening circus music. In between, nimble push-and-pull routines examine fickle relationships with confident dancing from an energetically youthful ensemble.
What Is Written Dance Company’s Unsettled has a similar set-up: six dancers, a contemporary technique and an apocalyptic atmosphere. What makes it more polished is the dramatic lighting (designed by co-choreographer and performer Jean Pierre) that creates a marked sense of different spaces – from bright white front-lit line-ups to claustrophobic spotlights and blue-red shadowy expanses. Clad in black and white, five women and a man journey over the stage like a pack of urban wolves through an ambient soundscape that includes sirens, rave music and finally gunfire. While often moving in unison, occasional solos, duets and trios create layers and sub-texts into which can be read narratives of group mentalities and super-human forces. (Not, however, of a mafia character called Igor as mentioned in the programme notes.)
In contrast to these conceptual group pieces, the evening opened with a dance theatre extract from Joelene English Dance Theatre. Narrating the day of Sylvia Plath's suicide, Joelene English and Wayne Summerbell painfully puppet their way around a stage set with domestic wooden furniture and standard lamps. English's opening solo with a teddy (the spitting image of Old Bear) sets an atmosphere of loneliness that increases with the entrance of Summerbell, who presents his own turmoil using an old black telephone. Although dancing the same language of twitches, jerks and pained facial expressions, the relationship between the couple is painfully claustrophobic: she dances standing on his toes; he rips his shirt off when she tries to touch his chest. After a cathartic flutter of pages thrown from a book, a bang and blackout follows, but the final emotion is strangely lacking in gravitas.
Lilia Prier Tisdall