Maybe I watch too many movies set in American high schools, but there’s something oddly teenager-y about how the dancers of Andante carry themselves. Two girls, two guys, all impossibly beautiful under the lights, a pleasant mix of purity and arch knowingness and soft awkwardness. They’re immaculately dressed by Kasper Hanser and Sophie Bellin in identical blue hoodies that come down to their upper thighs – the hazy lining captures an ethereal light – and with otherwise bare legs, they’re strikingly and self-consciously fashionable. Keeping front-facing, they step forward (slowly, feet a little unsteady) and move through a series of simple choreographies: all persisting for longer than it takes for us to comprehend, but without settling into any knowing boredom. They undertake this movement (always vertical, always on their feet) with a weird seriousness. At one point I think of goths.
They sing an aimless choral thing; an echo of folk song that at first reminds me of companies like Song of the Goat, but resists building into that kind of overwhelmingly full-bodied, sonorous climax. Instead, the dancers purposefully keep it a little too high, a little off-key, a little awkward. Maybe this is the teenager-quality – what could be smooth and impermeable, what could be powerfully transcendent, is carried by a vulnerable, uncertain body – a kind of weakness that has nothing to do with irony. Their bodies carry a nervous thrill that makes me think of flirting, late night trespass, occult rituals. Hands toy with the hems of their clothes. They look at us, and we look back at them – a gaze that feels as awkward and unsure as it feels inviting. There’s no assumption of our warmth or empathy or togetherness, and either one of us can break it.
It’s very theatrical – they’ve prepared visual and kinetic delights for us – in a way that is simultaneously impressive and a little try-hard. They dramatically release some (compacted, contained, constrained?) smoke that billows forward, passing by and through the audience as it fills the space. Seth Rook Williams’s lighting design feels utterly organised around this unique opportunity; what at first felt a little clunky on the emptier stage, now becomes at once gentle and powerful as continually shifting light ebbs and flows through the space. With a restricted palette of colour, the smoke makes visible the subtlest of shifts as the tungsten lamps heat and cool – resulting in a beautiful spectrum of soft orange, pinks, and bright white.
An understated solo – Eleanor Sikorski endlessly turning, turning, turning – that shocks me in how it refuses to develop into anything more. Then partnering – bodies hold each other in their gaze – and then a group dance, returning to and interweaving the earlier choreographies (back and forward, side to side, circling). It passes through all its permutations, and repeats – bodies produce and maintain a precise rhythm of flesh slapping the floor. The men are a bit more athletic, but it’s not a problem; we’re just seeing something danced with diverse energies, interests and values.
For a work of such silence, absence and stillness, Andante remains deeply full throughout. From the moment of entering the auditorium, we are presented with sensory complexity – a pervading perfume, a bit like a mix of jasmine and my memory of church sacristies; and a stage backdrop of horizontal lines, a gentle visual illusion that expand and contracts. Later on, as the smoke reaches a density that begins to fragments and ultimately obscure the dancers, the music takes foreground. Whereas the electronic sound had felt earlier oddly-placed in relation to the evidently rich attention to the analogue (the precise crackle of stepping through tiny firecrackers, the dancers’ humming and song, the slap of feet hitting the floor), now the work gives way to a complex and masterful sonic swell; my attention crests over what sounds like whale song, breaking surf, huge and fantastic brass instruments, and tortured metal tearing: all echoing throughout some vast industrial space.
Throughout these hazy final moments, as we sit before this immensely full and empty space, our applause is continually postponed – until precise rows of LED strip-lights shift the balance back to our side of the auditorium and softly signal the end of the work. It’s only then, sitting in the fog, noticing my thoughts returning to me, do I realise how deeply and subtly this show – a work full of strange off-balances that fall further and further, continually eluding and returning – has carried me away from myself. Some of the audience get up to leave, some stay and chat or just gaze into the smoke. It’s a very loving gesture – to sit with this absence, these smoky, blurry memories, and ourselves.
Usually, I’d cringe at this earnestness; and it’d be too easy to say that the work somehow ‘earns’ or ‘gets away with’ it. It feels like Igor & Moreno have developed a sophisticated choreographic awareness of how to make use of the inevitable boyish charm they carry in performance. More complex than the friendly positivity of Idiot-Syncrasy (2013), and more convincing than the expressionistic angst of A Room for All Our Tomorrows (2015), Andante feels like it makes use of their instinctive honesty and benevolence to take us further: to risk spaciousness, to tie together with our trust a set of deeply abstract and unstable propositions. It’s a hugely ambitious work; but this choreographic complexity is infused with, and ultimately grounded in, a palpable humility, boldness and nuance.
Paul Hughes watched Andante at Cambridge Junction. Click here for more details on the company.