Each night of Resolution 2018 at The Place, the UK’s largest dance festival for emerging artists, three new works from exciting choreographers are shown. On February 1st, the line-up included pieces from 180 degrees, Irene Cioni, and Simple Dance Company.
Kinetic Being, choreographed by 180 degrees, is a heavy work – aesthetically pleasing, with a stern precision, minimal, with each of its initial elements clearly well considered. It begins with four figures, each in black, curled in tight balls. Tied to each figure, at the back of the neck, is a helium-filled balloon, which floats above the body. Still for a while, like this, the bodies become unfamiliar – flattened by the lighting and their uniform, dehumanising costume. In this moment, body seems to merge with object, and object with body. The balloon becomes a floating head – the body is a rock, an anchor to the balloon.
From the strength of this initial proposition two steps are taken. First, the figures repeat an action of slowing rising and falling. This begins in unison but becomes staggered. Pace is played with, but the action remains exacting with an almost brittle quality (these bodies do their best to hide their human fragility and fleshy looseness). It’s heavy-going, and there’s not much room in this manner of performance for potential humour (despite the possible ridiculousness of these actions) and this is enforced, perhaps, by the live piano accompaniment. Minimalist, fragmentary but authoritative staccato, it pronounces its seriousness, its modernist purity.
Finally, in a third shift, the figures, having risen once more, begin to traverse the space. This final stage becomes surprisingly aimless for a work that began with such a concrete, considered premise. In the final moments, the dim lighting shifts and the performers faces become visible for a moment – a glimpse of subjectivity before the lights go out
The second offering, Standing Up, is choreographed by Irene Cioni and performed by Cioni and Jessica Latowicki. It’s a playful and surprising work that leads the audience down one path, only to double back on expectations. With a satisfying simplicity, the work begins with two female performers, both in prim leotards and white tights, downing a can of lager in front of two microphones. This is performed with a pleasing mix of smugness and a playful awkwardness – a wry smile, a haughty look to the audience, a belch followed by a mumbled apology.
Latowicki speaks to us – a meandering, sporadic, glitchy monologue that takes us through her personal history of lying and stealing, a present promise of honesty and seriousness, and an imagined future road trip into Europe that produces an anxious tumble of questions and deviations – while Cioni moves. What begins with an almost perfunctory choreography of hand gestures and arm extensions, moves into a lethargic, lounging dance. Rolling and pushing into the flooring, Cioni pauses at moments to pose, acknowledge the audiences gaze, only to turn away again with a possible disdain.
Latowicki, speaking of altering plans and uncertain destinations (will we end up in Paris, Madrid, Rome?), reflects on the work itself, which seems to be improvised – loose, expressive but faltering, uncertain – and could ‘go anywhere.’ But this is a pretence, a claim to ‘honesty’ through the ‘immediacy’ of movement and stand up, and in a moment Cioni too has stood up, back at her mic, and she is speaking in unison with Latowicki, a precise and crisp synchronicity that says ‘we knew – and we know – exactly what we were doing.’ In this moment, what we might have presumed to be some kind of performance of the self – an honest exposure – is revealed to be something studied, an exercise in control.
The third, and final, work – Simple Dance Company’s Keep Digging – is about being stuck in a rut. It’s about repetition, entrapment, anxiety, and if you don’t get this from the hair pulling and hand wringing – or the hysterical, at times mechanical, repetition of much of the movement – you are told by the end that this is what the work was about. Across a series of vignettes (a solo, a duet and then group choreographies, each to heart-wrenching ‘epic’ soundtracks), we are given images of perpetual internal conflict, a relationship of fluctuating care and refusal, the laborious drudgery of city life, an alienated gathering of pulsating people, zombie-like.
A lot of effort has been put into ladening this work with the idea of extreme feeling and, at times, mental breakdown. It feels excessive – it’s a contrived earnestness, that can’t quite support or be sustained by the choreography, which often loses a sense of direction, or purpose. Perhaps ironically, it is in a final breathy speech, an afterword that tells us that the definition of madness is repetition with the expectation of different results, that we get a more tangible sense of that intense emotion the work laboured so hard to produce, but somehow didn’t embody.
Trembling with exertion, mingled with tentative anxiety, the voice quivers as it gradually fills with a palpable sense of urgency. The body doesn’t need to perform its excessive awkwardness as it’s gasping for breath. The words, however, despite well-meaning and fervent, are concerning in their potentially universalising – possibly even moralising – edge. To speak of those “trapped” in the drudgery of the nine-to-five, or the madness of the city, is to assume a better knowledge of people (generally?) than they might know of themselves or their own (probably complex) situation. And that fills me, personally, with suspicion.
It seems exercising some kind of control appears to be a through line across these works. The tight precision of movement in Kinetic Being is restrained and concise, the cunning play of sincerity and artifice in Standing Up toys with the audience, and Keep Digging closes down on its own interpretation, speaking for itself instead. It’s a evening of contrasts and curatorially a jarring mix, but Resolution often is. It’s about trying things out, testing and experimenting – for audiences as much as artists.
Resolution 201 continues at The Place until February 23rd. For more details, click here.