Unstuffed shirts, you might call them: an array of variously coloured, buttoned and collared shirts like sculpted shells that once fit some body, but are now hollow. Choreographer Ellen Johansson pushes them round the stage as dutifully as if raking leaves on a lawn, but her piece Tuula is anything but workaday. In a series of solos, she and three dancers fill those shirts not with people or material, but with our imaginings. Chiara Corbetta carries one upon her shoulder like a constant companion. Jack Sergison lies down between two of them, to a conversational soundtrack of French woodsmen, the shirts becoming more fully fleshed characters than he. Karl Fagerlund Brekke holds two shirts aloft like lanterns, glowing with souls that we cannot see. The work is still a little rough-hewn, but it’s oddly enchanting.
There’s a kind of enchantment, too – dry, droll, deadpan – in Jayne Port’s Pibroch Tales, featuring kilted Gordon Douglas Raeburn as both compere and performer. In ‘Lament of Red Hector’ he acts out banal scenes – going fishing, bickering with his wife, feeling hungry – to the Pythonesque parps and squawks of a bagpipe. ‘MacCrimmon Will Never Return’ is his story of two guys hunting a deer, acted out as literally as a game of charades. Towards the end, the disparate elements of speech and song, comedy and seriousness, plain mime and shufflebum dancing begin to meld together in clever patterns; frustratingly, they don’t quite gel.
A naked man wearing a goat’s head sits on a chair reading a paper, faintly exasperated by two clothed women who flail and flop and canter and roll over – almost as if they were the beasts, not him. Emmeline Cresswell’s GOATSONG! hinges on this ambivalence between the human and animal. Several moments are very well placed – the women eating the potplants, for example (scenery-chewing, much?) – but while the piece is strong on surreal imagery, it’s scrappy with its choreography and dramaturgy.
In Tuula, sculptor Clémence Hérmard Hermitant has filled the stage with shirts, solidified and moulded in the shapes of past wearers. A female dancer sweeps them around the stage. They are discarded objects until she arranges them in a line and they suddenly appear human, as if preparing to bow. They flit between person and object and they're captivating. The piece is a series of solos with four dancers. Johansson’s restrained choreography gives space to the unusual beauty of the sculpture, but at points feels secondary. Transitions between the solos are simple meaning the piece can feel structurally repetitive. But there are moments that really capture the imagination. At one point a dancer sweeps a shirt over the audience, lit from within and phantom-like. Another dancer moves conversationally between two shirts to the sounds of throaty French chatting and they seem to come alive.
Pibroch Tales begins with kilt clad Gordon Douglas Raeburn introducing the piece, pint in hand. He dances, sings, and mimes his way through extracts from the bagpipers' music anthology, the Kilberry Book of Ceol Mor. He introduces each scene, self-consciously retying his kilt. The unusual form and honest performance are refreshing and create immediate connection with the audience. The Scottishness of the piece is evocative and his deliberate awkwardness funny. However he loses the audience in movement sections that are lengthy and underdeveloped.
GOATSONG! begins with a naked man wearing a plastic goat head. He sits reading the paper and turns to us, seemingly disapproving, as the woman behind him dances. His silent acknowledgement is entertaining and cleverly gets us on side. GOATSONG! is deliberately absurd and at first convincingly funny. The piece's meaning is extremely clear. The two female dancers gradually become less human and more liberated. They bleat loudly at each other and destroy the plastic flower beds. This concept of 'repressed animal nature' feels a little unoriginal, however, and their movement sometimes generic.