I wondered, who is TOBY? A small collective of London based female dancers performing distinct work, they are a worthy discovery. Led by choreographer Katy Higgins, who credits the dancers in the creation of the first piece of the night, Episodic 86 is an intense and captivating exploration of memory. Each dancers’ creative and physical force is evident as they unleash their individuality and perform the strong recurring sequences and unique elements with vigour, to the pumping electro/techno beats of music producer Benjamin Winter. TOBY has an engaging emerging voice, that makes me want to see more.
A dance and lighting company is an intriguing thing, but Barnaby Booth literally makes light part of the performance in Loyal Prophets to an indifferent God. The omnipresent elements of God and light are enhanced by an eclectic soundscape and a narration that questions religion. The dancers are the highlight as they respond to the philosophical theme with a solid performance that has an aggressive edge, filled with confusion, angst and frustration. The dancers speak, they scream; a dancer violently flails until held down by another, as a spotlight is literally wheeled over to illuminate the moment. Although lighting is a key element, it is the cast that radiates.
#nofilter by ella&co. is #fresh #humorous #cool, and a thoroughly entertaining end to the evening. Attacking the social media addicted millennial world, four female dancers step onto the stage with t-shirts embellished with popular and pervasive hashtags. With rigid, digitally inspired hip swirls and gym squats, they comically explore the pressures to be Instagram-ably perfectly presented. They poise, strut, and preen with forced smiles; desperately seeking the validation of likes. But the satirical music video moments are interrupted by notification and swiping sounds, that disrupt the dancers’ flow and break our attention, with the feeling of flicking between apps. The superficial, deliberately over exaggerated choreography delves into the darker, emotionally isolated side of Millennial life, until they all break into a joyous freeform dance explosion, that ends the night on a hopeful note.
Through Episodic 86, TOBY provided a highly energised opening. With abounding strength and power, the female performers present us with an intricate exploration of the recollection of memory. The work paced through a seemingly endless stream of fragmented gestures examining personal experience, augmented by a driving electronic sound score by live artist Benjamin Winter. The continuous, unrelenting rate of this piece made it difficult for these personal images to resonate with me, and I yearned to see a singular idea explored more deeply. A promising offering and certainly an impressive movement vocabulary from choreographer Katy Higgins.
Barnaby Booth’s Loyal Prophets to an indifferent God is a beautifully bleak performance that from the outset transforms the stage into a vast landscape, in which the ensemble of dancers stumble and flail. Opening with words from Robert Musil, a philosophical contemplation of religion is approached with maturity, and Booth’s experience as a lighting designer truly enhances the disoriented vulnerability of his performers. A light brought forwards into the space creates an uncomfortable glare as a male body has to be forcibly restrained as he violently twists and flounders. The near faultless cohesion of the dancers, and some notable contact work made this one of the festival's strongest pieces so far.
The final offering from Ella&co is a bold and thoroughly engaging new work that pokes fun at the millennial generation and its self-obsessed culture. The individual personalities of four likeable, quirky women made #nofilter lighthearted and enjoyable without lecturing us. Like an Instagram filter we are exhaustively subjected to vigorous, sometimes aggressive pouting, posing and preening. An interlude, where the dancers awkwardly shuffle, nonsensically gabbling at one another reminiscent of the EA Games SIMS franchise was particularly popular with the evening's young audience, whose enthusiastic laughter demonstrated the piece certainly connected with the demographic that provided its inspiration.