Marta Swierczynska's THE BASE ...explores things that keep us going in life amongst the chaos and uncertainty" driven by the live and full-on drumming of Krzysztof Bryll; and encouragingly there's a slick promo video (on the Place website) by Harper Oreade that gives an intriguing and moody peek into this vision. The live actuality was mixed but was at its best when the six dancers pulsed and surged with gut-thumping energy all across the stage; and they were a slick, well-rehearsed bunch too, with Angus Bartlett particularly standing out in a muscular athletic solo. But other solos and quieter moments seemed to let the energy and originality sag and had you scrabbling to find the relevance of the visuals to the inspiration.
The strongest work in the bill was Ashley Jordan's meditation on the crucifying impact of Covid on creative arts practitioners. Resilient, for Lexy Garner & Ben Morley, working under the banner of Ascension Dance Company, had clear narrative ambition and clearly showed it - Hallelujah for that. It's a warts and all depiction of depression, mutual support, hopes dashed and hopes renewed - rinse and repeat - and was at its best against the foil of some gently cosseting piano music (uncredited). While moving, it was a performance that felt like it needed a bit more spit and polish in places, particularly in the Maliphantesque duet with slowly powerful partnering - if you are going here it can't appear effortful.
The introductory blurb for Jayde Edwards' Submerge totally confused me from its first sentence which appeared to place a group of dancers at the bottom of the ocean and then seeing how they might collectively or individually escape. I guess there is a metaphor or two going on here, but it felt weird and the live work didn't really help. Now put that all to one side and what we got was some intensely grounded barefoot dancing to a terrifically brawny drumming and electronic score by Cameron Collie, all backed by some strong boxy lighting cues. As with the opening work it tended to lose focus in the solos but looked at its dynamic best when all 5 dancers worked in unison. An ambitious piece that felt like it needed a little more rehearsal, but a work that could really fizz, particularly in the ending section.
The drummer, Krzysztof Bryll, comes on stage to his kit and launches a beat from his phone. His six dancer companions on THE BASE undulate and stomp in a choreography highly reminiscent of Hofesh Schechter. Here it is all: the arms patterns, the shifts low to the ground, the use of spotlights, the droning electronic score with heavy drumming beats and middle-eastern influences. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have any of the tightness of Schechter’s execution and timing, or its emotional intensity. Although the piece is billed as a conversation between dancers and drums, they don’t really come together until the high intensity of the finale where the dancers’ tremors echo the drum rolls. There are some good performances, Angus Bartlett notably, but the impressive movements feel gratuitous, as the weirdly muted energy of the piece failed to connect.
Resilient's potent feeling of despair at least resonates with the viewers – who hasn’t needed a hug over the past two Covid years? Deft contact improvisation is deployed to effective emotional ends by Lexy Garner and Ben Morley. Energy shifts between them as Morley, who initially supported a collapsing Garner and tenderly helped her put on her jacket, in turns grow despondent. As much as this cyclical narrative mirrors the relentlessness of repeated lockdowns and never-ending pandemic, it overall makes for a slow and unresolved arc.
Harder to find a coherent narrative in Submerge. It’s collective of 5 dancers, with the choreographer Jayde Edwards among them, feed off each other interesting and diverse individual styles: the foundation is hip-hop, while lifts and arm balances draw on contemporary vocabulary. The dynamic series of seemingly disconnected vignettes doesn’t really draw you on the journey it promised. The group gather under a spotlight, moths seeking the sun. A couple is the image of co-dependency, back-to-back travel and trust falls followed by violent rejection and clinginess. The trio of men circle each other and aggressively show-off their moves. The result feels rather muddled at this stage and would deserve, as all the works on show tonight, some sprucing up to fully realise its ideas.