Four girls define themselves through individual activity in Lydia Touliatou’s opening piece. Propelled by the sparse plinking of an offstage zither they roll and curl, stretch and pose, testing the space around them and weighing up potential relationships with each other. As it shifts into a different mood, the live zither giving way to chugging, growling electronica, a sense of suspicion and competitive paranoia emerges until a kind of rapprochement is achieved with all four engaging in a synchronised bounce. The concluding solo echoes some of the earlier movements through the repeated pattern of a lopsided slow motion walk that gets faster with increasing additions, accompanied by the zither player who appears onstage. Unafraid of stillness, Touliatou guides the dancers’ personalities into a group dynamic that results in a spartan, enigmatic work with an indelible signature.
Yanaelle Thiran performs in her own duet opposite Shivaangee Agrawal. Shadowing each other in movement, they begin at a distance before investigating the whole space. Approaching and retreating from a low level spotlight they split into their constituent roles for solos - Thiran’s languid, long-limbed shapeshifting versus Agrawal’s Bharatanatyam style stamps and whirls - before regrouping. The accompanying texts in French and English are less distracting than the music tracks whose variety unseats an otherwise elegant, well-plotted work.
In complete contrast, Taira Foo’s ensemble piece is visceral, politically-charged physical theatre dealing specifically with the Syrian refugee crisis. A playful and loving family is swept up by a group of outsiders fleeing for their lives. With minimal props - a wire fence that becomes a cage, a tunnel and various traps - Foo conveys the panic, anger and fear of innocent victims caught in the crossfire of conflict. Tactile and violent, it is a full-blooded, in-your-face work of restless momentum, employing elements of streetdance, mime and bold gestures. If it suffers from being too busy and overcrowded with incident, the concluding moments are desperately moving.
Four female performers explore relationships in Lydia Touliatou’s Assemblies. To a discordant soundtrack they vie for control through running sequences, execute successive on-the-spot jumps in disunity and leave long silences portraying disconnection. The final solo (though almost an afterthought) successfully explores negative cycles of relationships. Repeated movement sequences build to a tripping, stumbling chaos as abusive patterns become entrenched. Though the symbolism throughout Assemblies was clear, it needed more depth and expression to tackle such a multi-dimensional subject matter.
Yanaelle Thiran’s charming Swapping Shadows brought warmth and light to the evening. Solo pieces showcased Yanaelle Thiran and Shivaangee Agrawal’s individual skills in contemporary and Bharatanatyam styles, but it was the duets which were eye- catching and heart-warming: a real dance sisterhood. Yes, Indian forms and contemporary dance are old companions, but the delicacy, respect and genuine curiosity for each other’s form and expression promised something fresh. The audio narrative didn’t engage, but I was gently swept away by the visuals: smooth shapes, loose tumbles and harmonious lines with effective, uncomplicated lighting. Eye-soothing synchronisation, syncopation, mirroring and the dancers’ personal connection made Swapping Shadows joyfully easy to watch.
Flowers in December was an emotionally-charged piece, exploring the heart-breaking personal side of the Syrian conflict. Solid dance and theatre by Hinged Dance, cleverly combined styles – soft lines and playfulness depicting family safety, contrasted with high-energy urban-influenced group pieces portraying conflict and rage. I was slightly baffled by “guidance” screen titles, as the dance and choreographic narrative definitely spoke for itself. Some acting was overdone, but this didn’t spoil the overall piece. Effective props – most notably a net – highlighted the suffering inflicted by borders, entrapment, separation and attempted escape. Though it was the dancers' genuine emotional engagement and Taira Foo's straightforward but riveting choreography which made it the evening's highlight.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article ran with incorrect information about Shivaangee Agrawal's performance, her dance is of the Bharatanatyam form and not Kathak as originally posted.