E. E. Cummings is quoted in saying “the most wasted of all days is one without laughter” – through Bite Dance’s Still Laughing, we have not wasted one moment. The duo, comprising Zoë Bishop and Alice White, has concocted an elaborate and complex score that not only keeps us engaged in its talented execution, but entertained through intelligently crafted humour as well. The gestural genius we are presented with leads us from absurd face-pulling, to fiendish mimicry, to a dark juxtaposition of their neutrality against the dizzying hysteria of laughter on a recorded soundscore. Still Laughing is a surreal, fresh and powerful lungful of hilarity.
Thomas Michael Voss’s Quaestio presents to us an archetypal and stereotypical form of masculinity as seen from the point of view of a person living with disabilities. Moments of genuine fragility within the group of dancers, and virtuosic actions, were overshadowed somewhat by the musicians who dominated the space and our focus. We can see movements that could potentially lead to somewhere surprising but these quickly dissipate into a clamour of grunting, simulated masturbating, split-leaps, and a hand-stand. Quaestio is the Latin noun for the English 'seeking' or 'questioning'. Not all questions have direct solutions, but Voss makes it almost irresolvable for us in seeking answers from his talented cast.
In a quiet and humble approach to the sensation of touch, or lack thereof, Sara-Jayne Berrill’s (un)touched guides us to the conclusion of our evening's pieces. Two dancers on stage set themselves opposing one another, advancing and retreating – they walk amongst a plethora of shirts adorning the floor. They exchange meaningful looks, adjust their hair and itch at their skin; arms drop like pendulums – there is a natural state achieved that leaves a serene presence in their meandering wake. This piece was calm, and definitely charged with intent, but did not break pace and, at times, lacked depth and diversity of movement vocabulary to sustain its short duration.
Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. Still Laughing is an investigation of laughter in all its guises: brief, focused, affecting and memorable. Bite Dance’s Zoe Bishop and Alice White, wearing white suits and spats, initially keep straight faces as they hold curious poses, which make sense only when they contort their expressions into grins. As voice snippets discuss the nature of laughter, the pair run through the repertoire, from dainty tee-hees to raucous guffaws, laughing at themselves, each other, and audience members, exploring laughter’s gestural language, then sliding into vaudeville-like movement, with Chaplin-esque struts. But there’s a discomfiting dark edge to the fact that they turn off the laughs in a moment, and regard us severely.
Quaestio is Latin for 'inquiry' but Thomas Michael Voss’s 25-minute work feels more like a confrontation. A group of musicians dominate the stage, but are disrupted by four dancers, using the guise of lairy football yobs to present an extreme masculinity, before becoming almost simian. A fifth, disabled performer (Joshua Robertson) arrives – he is mocked, then absorbed into the group, his movements copied. By the end he’s left simulating masturbation on the floor, while the others, stripped down to jockstraps, play at some sort of elastic skipping. Voss wants to present movement “from a disability point of view”, but the overt aggression of the piece pushes us away rather than draws us into experiencing anything differently. It’s unsettling, but not in a very constructive way.
Sara-Jayne Berrill takes simplicity maybe too far with (un)touched. Christina Binney and Sarah Covington approach and retreat from each other, then, to a burst of Mogwai, put on and cast off shirts that have been strewn around the stage. They end with a hug, sustained as the audience leaves. It’s a bit of a push to call it a dance piece – but its limited movement palette does find something unusual in the everyday and its simple message about human contact is heartwarming.