Circus skills and contemporary floorwork combine in Nathan Johnston and Emily Nicholl’s Levels, a duet which vividly expresses the vulnerability and trust bound up in the relationship between bodies, especially when they’re acrobatic. Johnston and Nicholl playfully emphasise the marked physical differences between them – brawn against slightness – in a witty opening section in which Nicholl appears attached to her partner’s back and calves with an impish ease. While there can be a tendency for cutesy infantilization or something more pervily commercial in the acrobatic exploration of feminine petiteness and flexibility, Levels reads instead as a celebration of physical heft and helium-lightness brought into temporary balance – an intricate friendship in perpetual motion.
Traces, choreographed and performed by Kesha Raithatha, is an atmospheric and intense portrait of a figure in flux. Facing away from the audience, lit by a searching spotlight, Raithatha uses her own breath as a percussive force. What initially sound like chuckles or sobs modulate into whooshing exhalations and hissing inhalations, to which her body responds with flailing bursts of out-flung limbs. The sense of antic malaise is heightened by creaturely contortions and the distorted rumble of an accompanying soundscape. Raithatha’s dramatic study of troubled interiority is cleverly enhanced via light beams and stage smoke to create a kind of ectoplasmic hinterland for the soul.
In Between eloquently portrays a drama of identity and its irresolution, in this case the dual pull of Eastern and Western culture. Piedad Albarracin is an androgynous figure in white, whirling and spuming with the agitated energy of a moth, while Hsing-Ya Wu appears from the wings in full Geisha regalia, only to disrobe down to simple white garments that match Albarracin’s. Cursive motion and exploratory extensions modulate into curt flex-footed kicks as a martial duet unfolds – a technically precise and riveting dance of close, tense contact in which one perpetually blocks the other’s attempts to take flight.
There was a casual animalistic quality to the work of Nathan Johnston & Emily Nicholl. The fragility which was at play between the performers gave the work its strength. Using the discrepancy of their different body weights the pair used this to balance and drop, fall and catch, totter and gather. There were notes of discomfort cutting through their gentle engagement which gave the work an edge. When the male dancer crushed and trapped the small figure of his partner beneath him, we momentarily doubted her ability to break free. This piece was beguiling in its simplicity and I was sad we couldn’t have seen more.
Traces was a beautifully studied performance exploring memories and how we process and learn from them. Kesha Raithatha used all her skills as a dancer drawing from different traditions to create her own language of expression. Alone on the stage she drew us in to her story only to push us away again when her secrets were too painful to tell. Although we were offered moments of silence, pauses using light and smoke and visual gems of stillness these were not held quite long enough. A more careful editing would have allowed us space to breathe and a chance to fully enter her world.
Hysing-Ya Wu’s In Between by contrast to the opening work, was honed and crafted and appeared considered from every angle. White costumes contrasted with the bright kimono of the Geisha which was eventually dumped in a heap at the back of the stage, a dramatic image of a disrobed and discarded body; a live percussionist overlaid with a pre-recorded soundtrack; two dancers in a faultless duet and powerful solo performances created a complex work. Yet the piece did not quite allow us that magical moment of unknowing and uncertainty that seemed promised in the title. After all that was said and done, I came away thinking that the old adage ‘Less is More’ rather summed up the evening.