Rowena Gander hangs like a bat from a silver pole, her body cocooned in a black bag. In a subversion of the popular notion of a pole dance, she gives a performance of ownership and control. Still incased within the bag, her body morphs into a series of Rorschach blots, before finally, she emerges, She makes a feature of her strength, hefting the pole and its platform around the performance space. She plays with the idea of exposure, revealing her body on her own terms. Paul Tilsney’s crunching, thumping music brings a forcefulness to a piece that might otherwise seem slight.
In contrast Christopher Thomas Dance’s Blood’s Thicker than Water is gothic in atmosphere and not thin on plot. A shrine of candles and flowers sits beneath a painting of the Anderson family’s late patriarch. His children, three daughters and a son, don mourning dress over their corsets and bustles as they move in anguished swirling circles, enacting the rituals of grief. Then a woman in white enters, clasping a letter, and this sends the family into a tumult, resulting in windmilling limbs and synchronized writhing plus an apt dash of Kate Bush. Though sometimes lacking in narrative clarity, Christopher Thomas’ ambitious and tightly performed piece revels in intensity in a way that is almost gleeful and doesn’t let up until the end.
The concluding piece by Company Nil is the most opaque. In this duet between two performers, Daniel Phung and James Olivio, gestures of affection grow into something akin to grappling. They sit on one another’s prone bodies. They connect and disconnect, their arms becoming entangled. They encircle each other’s feet. Lighting is used to concentrate the audience’s attention, the houselights dimming as Phung uses a single spotlight to pick out Olivio’s jelly legs and motile hips as he sprawls on his back on the floor. The pacing throughout is hypnotic and contemplative.
Rowena Gander is a woman moving on a silver pole. Far from sexualised, she is a coiled ball in a womb-like, stretchy fabric sack. She presses her face through the mesh. She shapeshifts amidst tense music and now she is a hostage tied to a post. Taking charge, the cloth becomes a skirt and she flips the pole down with strength, legs askew outside the up-ended circle. She spins it around the floorspace, leaping over it. The effect is mesmeric; pleasingly obscure and unemotive. Emancipated, she morphs into a villain in a strapless dress, winding her long ponytail around itself. Technical prowess is lacking but we enjoy the power play.
A painting of a lost father hangs above a gothic spray of flowers and candles. With sounded breath, three sinuous daughters and a son sweep each other up in energetic circles, acting out arguments over silver lockets and hand-penned letters. Dressed in black cheesecloth, they mourn and shake; they comfort each other, holding their siblings tightly in dramatic embraces. There is powerful storytelling here: worthy of Dracula or Frankenstein. A cohesive, fluid and well-rehearsed ensemble. The dancers are highly proficient, but more nuance in speed, effort and tone plus individual characterisation would bring darker shadow and light to this striking composition.
Company Nil are two men of similar ages. This causes disconnection with the programme notes that state the premise is ‘a man and a boy’. Opening on a wide stage, brightly lit latitudinally, the work is intriguingly slow, relying on minimalist movement to draw us in. The dancers shift the proximity between them, loop elbows, then briefly grapple in a shoulder lock. It feels satisfyingly authored, with controlled, dignified choreography. The fine art equivalent might be found at the White Cube. This subtle piece is mature and commanding.