Entering WomenWonder Collective’s immersive world, we’re greeted with ambient sound, soft undulations of the women already in action and comforting lighting. Three different fabrics envelope each member of the trio from which they struggle individually to free themselves, relying on a variety of canny moves. But they are most successful when entangled together they use one another’s bodies as ledges or levers. The theme of the work takes shape – how women’s struggle for autonomy is best aided by the support of others. Improvisation and an inventive use of voice keep an element of surprise in Her Agency but apart from some strikingly dramatic sculptural poses and heroine actions the movement stays on a mundane level of sameness.
There’s no empowering feminist subtext in Harry Parr’s PEAK. Another trio but this time the two women of the group appear as secondary objects to set off Parr’s spikey, idiosyncratic solo; their robotic expressions contrasting with Parr’s quirky animation. An abstract piece focussing on articulations of flow – a nod to hip hop, PEAK does present some fresh choreographic ideas explored to create an interesting tension with the dark flat space around. It’s a bit baffling in terms of theatrical development and Corrie McKenzie’s arrival on stage munching crisps doesn’t give us any more clues.
Johnny Autin is a man on a mission and although exploring the unstable terrain of mental health he knows where he’s going. It’s in the direction of self-discovery and emotional well-being, and while he doesn’t arrive at a destination (the work is in progress) he does share with us some evocative imagery and gripping movement along the way. White paper dominates the stage, both rolled across the floor as Autin’s cat- walk to salvation or shredded up as metaphor for his fragmented psyche. Wearing vulnerability on his sleeve, Autin travels between imaginary places of manic obsession and self-realisation, trying out different looks and personas through costume and dynamic bursts of activity; adding or discarding them in his search for something better. It’s a powerful solo and Autin touches with his brave quest for spiritual enlightenment.
Gestural landmarks punctuate Johnny Autin’s psychological odyssey Square One, from the teasing twizzle of his moustache to his splayed fingers which cast a headdress-like shadow on a hanging paper screen. Autin navigates both a white paper pathway which his recumbent, undulating body cautiously unravels and the crevasse he creates by tearing it in two. The new in-between space ignites a sudden rush of reckless joy (unrelenting even with his vision obscured by squares of paper), arms open wide with the triumphant confidence of a circus ringmaster. I am captivated by Autin’s energy and caught off-guard by the strength of his emotional storytelling. If only all physical explorations of mental health held such empathetic power as this.
While Autin’s journey is accentuated by distinctive stages, WomenWonder Collective’s Her Agency is rather art installation-like in its explorative monotone. Slow writhing and entanglement of three dancers under fabric of contrasting textures conjure a parallel between female suppression and a sticky spider’s web; the victims are isolated and their escape routes complex. In a nod towards the #MeToo movement, the trapped emerge and unite through common vulnerability in a looping mass; intimate shared spaces are vacated and filled by padding hands and feet. It is a thoughtful piece and the improvisatory collaboration, albeit rather slow burning, conveys the importance of mutual female empowerment.
Harry Parr is served well by fellow performers Adélie Lavail and Corrie McKenzie’s loyalty to the movement’s texture in Thursday night’s second trio, PEAK. Crisp stillness and mechanical isolations meet full-bodied curves and lunges in a satisfying amalgamation of hip hop and contemporary styles. As they shift and swing collectively, I am drawn to the sensitivity to rhythmic scale and soundtrack (punchy pulses and meandering viola), but sense subtle emotional discord which un-synchs the dancers somewhat. Parr is undoubtedly committed to his space-encompassing enterprise and his promise of rousing movement vocabulary rings true.