While the first two pieces felt like full-length programmes, Declan Whitaker’s work was uncomplicated, minimalist and quite frankly a bit of a relief as a coda to the evening. Three dancers build choreographic material with a meditational focus. Very little seems to happen apart from slight shifts in the body, the twitching of a finger, a slight incline of the head. It’s time to zone out as we watch material develop, sequences materialise - in silence. Jarring techno music sporadically galvanises the performers into different phases of bigger, faster action and new languages evolve but always return to the initial sanctuary of stillness and silence. Surprisingly cathartic.
Choreographer Zhi Xu packs complex choreography, inventive technology and props into Dialogue: X-Body with an insatiable creative energy. Digital graphics provide a mystical backdrop and trace the progression of dusk to dawn and within these nocturnal landscapes, five women and Xu himself interact with a range of other technologies. Computer applications morph their bodies into blurring images or fantastical fish that flit across the cyclorama; but they also experiment with sound as one dancer manipulates a microphone through breath and movement. While there are moments of stunning collision between the rich components of this work, their impact is undermined by the overload of ideas.
In his solo, Charlie Hendren brings us back from the alien abstract worlds of Xu to the earthy material one of man. Surrounded by a mess of objects - instruments, clothing, camping gear, this hermit in the woods named David Moore entertains us through stories, music and dance. An accomplished narrator, Hendren also impresses in his ability to segue from tricksy physical moves to musical versatility. A lost soul - his head full of memories, landscapes and journeys, Hendren's captivating at times but ultimately loses us on his convoluted, emotional travels.
Under a projected full moon, a group of dancers nest together, swelling and contracting like a lung. Dialogue: X-Body draws resources from technology and from ceremony - at one point, a hanging microphone is carried on as if it’s a dying god. Zhi Xu’s choreography is commanding and considered, and the techno-occultist visuals are sometimes arresting, like an ultrasound scan of the dance. The whole feels inconclusive, but full of rigour and desire.
Charlie Hendren plays a recluse with little to his name but a pot of flour, some bottled water, a guitar and a looping machine in this portrait of male self-isolation and angst. Occasionally he catches something tender and pathetic about this person alone with only himself to play with; but mostly it’s hard to distinguish between the self-laceration and the self-regard. Despite its talk about the “the reality of this pain”, A Light in the Backwoods felt a bit unreal, a precocious echo of other things, too full of sound to let itself be.
By contrast, Declan Whitaker’s To Those Who Wait makes patience its element. The three dancers begin in extreme slowness - their wavering bodies allowed just to happen to themselves - and in silence, except for the lyrical creak of the room. It circles intricately through phases of heightened colour and euphoric club music, the dancers’ gradual alignment making them seem movingly continuous across distances. At one moment, there is an uncanny looping reversal between the performers, halfway between an instagram ‘boomerang’ and a choreographic shiver. The piece resolves in silence with a musical sense of design, as if the whole thing were one single complex gesture. This felt enquiring and purposeful, an example of the attentiveness which the critic Eric Griffiths wrote can “slow our transit through our selves”.