Wayward Thread Proxy
Trah and Chips Theatre Taffeta Dreaming
The camera zooms in their faces. In Wayward Thread’s Proxy two performers, Laura Vanhulle and Dan Phung, are being filmed using an infrared camera. The cameraman asks them questions such as: “what do you think about when you brush your teeth?’ and “have you ever kissed someone with your eyes open?” There’s a sense of spontaneity to their responses but also an undercurrent of trust as they play with each other’s faces, pursing each other’s lips with their fingers, slapping each other’s cheeks. Eventually the camera is turned upon the audience. While Si Rawlinson’s work engagingly explores video’s ability to create a sense of intimacy, it feels a little unfinished as piece.
Dramatic lighting also plays a role in the next piece by nat.co. Shifted begins with two male performers, Brandon Clarke and Samuel Ozouf wrapped around the feet of Gabriele Martin, as she sways like seaweed. They root her to the ground. But eventually she becomes untethered. Choreographed by Natalie Bell, this has the richest physical language of the three pieces. There’s a poeticism to the way it uses movement to evoke a sense of jeopardy and displacement, of bodies in battle with the elements. The performers appear to lean into the wind as torch light flickers around them. The piece ends with Clark and Ozouf mirroring each other’s gestures, the crossing of an ankle, the positioning of a leg, before folding round each other, cradling one another, holding each other close.
The concluding piece, by Trah and Chips Theatre, is as much a dialogue as a dance. Taffeta Dreaming is a vibrant two-hander based on four poems that explores sexual identity, friendship and growing into your own skin. A young man and a young woman reminisce about their school days, their WKD fuelled BNOs (big nights out) and how things have shifted now they have reached the age of 28. Rebecca Hesketh-Smith and Stuart Thompson perform with verve and humour, both as comfortable with the demands of the choreography as the verbal back-and-forth. In between their conversational exchanges they move in tandem, on a stage saturated in pink light, capturing in words and movement the complexity and tenderness of friendship.
The explicit question “Who are you?” is impossible to answer, but experimental choreographer Si Rawlinson puts it to his dancers in Proxy, a piece that demands much more than physical prowess from them. His eclectic approach explores semi- scripted dialogue and infra-red imaging, but the title delivers the answer: we are what others make of us. Laura Vanhulle and Dan Phung interact physically and psychologically. Laura moves as Dan imagines her movements; Dan speaks as Laura manipulates his face, and they dance in the dark as we watch through spy cameras. But technology rules OK: audio visual artist Dan Lowenstein is on stage with all his paraphernalia and the auto-voyeurism of the ubiquitous selfie is lasciviously demonstrated. Proxy, work in progress, begs to allow us more of two supple, composed and engaging dancers.
Shifted is supernal. From its lyrical opening to its tense conclusion, Natalie Bell’s intricately choreographed depiction of displacement is riveting. The piece has a narrative with a chronology double-defined by the distressful dichotomy of what is taken and what is left when humanity is uprooted. Shifted opens with an image reminiscent of a sea-anemone wafted to and fro by the currents. Is the creature confined or is she firmly rooted? Gabriele Martin moves with a limpid liquidity, but her ankles are tightly bound by the recumbent forms of fellow dancers Brandon Clarke and Samuel Ozouf. A dynamically depicted journey follows the turmoil of fleeing, at sea and on land. The precisely coordinated athleticism of the two male dancers underlines the agitation in this timeless study of expulsion and exile.
Now for something entirely different. Alex James-Cox’s characters in Taffeta Dreaming are displaced from the comfort of their northern hometown to the relentless pressure-cooker of London. Their story, told with well-defined body language, has open humour tinged with sincere pathos. Daisy is very fond of Isaac. Isaac is, however, a bisexual who is “trying to get to like girls”. The story unfolds in a robust blend of contemporary dance with stand-up, consummately delivered by Rebecca Hesketh-Smith and Stuart Thompson. The characterisation is spot-on: the awkwardness of encounter, the embarrassment of getting it wrong, the disappointments are all neatly portrayed, as brassy petulance and coy withdrawal fight for the moment.