Blogs

3 February 2018
Author: Neil Norman & Stephanie Brown

Fri 2 Feb: Autin Dance Theatre/Elinor Lewis with Nuria Legarda Andueza/BARBERDANCE

Autin Dance Theatre Dystopia
Elinor Lewis and Nuria Legarda Andueza Orchard
Barberdance/Luca Braccia Where is my border

There is an element of circus artistry in the first two pieces in this triple bill. Johnny Autin’s duet with Laura Vanhulle is a muscular celebration of gender equality, performed with a vivacious strength that graduates from antagonism and suspicion to trust. Similarly clad in black costumes that hint at Ancient Sparta, they tussle and lift each other with athletic grace, challenging their physical powers to the limit. As one holds the other upside down in a vertical position they appear to be a single creature before splitting apart with a hand on a face as if to say: “Not yet.” The sonic backdrop shifts from abrasive noise to mutated songs and tribal percussion reflecting the journey of their relationship. The courtship jig towards the end is as enlightening as it is unexpected, as if the sun had broken through lowering storm clouds.

Orchard offers an entirely different perspective on relationships and control. Two women identically dressed and coiffed in black bobs negotiate a path through a forest of poles - vertical poster tubes - in total silence. At first their movement is barely perceptible; Loris-slow they inch across the stage like a minute hand before gradually accelerating. They sway and lean, rock back and forth and weave in and out without disturbing the delicately balanced poles. Like a rarefied circus act, it is part minimalist dance, part installation. Mesmerising and nerve-wracking.

The final work is fuelled by righteous anger over soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. A series of short tableaux depict almost naked men and women in positions of contorted agony, eventually hauled into a pile by a single survivor. Shuttling between brutality and tenderness, Luca Braccia’s choreography combines militaristic movement with hip hop streetdance. The restless lighting, the rigid, spasm-like gestures and the Hellish snapshots are unnecessarily augmented by shouting, screaming and hysterical laughter. In spite of some striking images including army boots as comforters it emerges as a blunt representation of a complex condition.

Neil Norman


Dystopia is a fearless, high-energy duet. This gender-defying, circus-dance hybrid is choreographed by Autin, who performs alongside the immensely strong, graceful Laura Vanhulle. Both dancers’ tireless lifts, acrobatic balances and the effortless throwing-catching of Vanhulle as she circumnavigates Autin’s body, are breath-taking. Starkly lit by a single bulb - fiercely contrasting powerful body work - the couple sometimes swallow each other up in athletic wrestles and urgent bids for control. But Dystopia is not all about muscle. Moments of tenderness, a joyful Celtic jig and the laid-bare finale – spot-lit hands; entwined, searching, finding – are honest reminders of our basic need for connection. A solid, captivating start to the evening.

From athleticism to hushed, mindful Tai Chi-like slowness, Orchard  features Elinor Lewis, Nuria Legarda Andueza and an abundance of vertically-placed tubes. We hold our breath as the duo barely move through their fragile and unstable environment. After a seemingly endless silence – physically and audibly – they side-step, sway and shimmy, navigating their tree-scape. Despite this feat of control and balance, Orchard  is slow to ripen. The somewhat predictable (albeit comical) conclusion of tube-tumbling destruction, leaves me wondering if this would sit better as part of a larger, more developed work.

A lone soldier – boots dangling from his hands – stares blankly. Strips of light reveal half-naked bodies, sometimes allowing us mere glimpses of these tortured human sculptures, shift-shaping and contorting in anguish. Barberdance’s “Where is my border?” is a heart-wrenching look at PTSD and effortlessly paints powerful images of trauma. Dancers drag meat-like corpses into piles, make futile attempts to reassemble limbs to non-human sounds of tearing and pulling and participate in crazed soldier selfies. As the piece develops, we witness an unrelenting disconnection from reality, as boots become mobile phones and guns, normality and trauma overlapping in disconcerting hysteria. The occasional lack of cohesion between scenes does not diminish the haunting thought-provoking choreographic imagery.

Stephanie Brown

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