In last year’s Severance, Devon writer JoJo Spinks tackled the human cost of the economic crisis – the psychological impact, the deprivation and the degradation – revealing a keen understanding of the pressures under which individuals buckle and break. In it, she used local dance company Trash Dollys to great effect, bringing out the subtext in some of the personal stories; their physicality made tangible the anxiety and despondency inherent to hardship.
In these two new pieces – Somewhere Between My Broken Seams and Vega, which opened the From Devon with Love season at the Bike Shed – JoJo again uses dance, this time as the main medium to convey her narratives (there are voice tracks in both), with varying success.
First up was Somewhere Between My Broken Seams, in which dancers Aimee Symes and Hayley Barker interacted with each other and a set of male clothes, to ‘explore the relationship between two bodies, clothing and touch’. From the start, however, the dancers’ physical language seemed disconnected structurally and emotionally with the voice track (provided by Katie Villa); this was compounded by a certain lack of stillness between movements. My main gripe, however, is that so much took place on the floor – the nature of the space means that most of what happens down low can’t be seen by a large swathe of the audience – that I felt shut out and ceased to care about the narrative or characters. The one excuse a local company can’t use is that they’re unaware of the limitations of the performance space at the Bike Shed, and it seemed to suggest a lack of attention to detail.
Vega was a far more satisfying piece, however, right from the moment that dancer/choreographer Kay Crook took possession of the space, tracing her way round the walls as if marking out the physical boundaries of the narrative arena and yet also managing to suggest a larger context. The strongest sequence saw her pointing skyward, with precision, grace and vigour, fixing her in our minds as a representative of something greater – more profound – than the man (voiced by Sam Burns) who becomes captivated by her. Holding the poses, her extremities suggest the outer limits of understanding, of constellations; her stillness hinting at the possibility of deeper intricacies of interaction, of fixed points that welcome alteration. The voice track seemed pedestrian in places – some of the sentiments a little clichéd – which worked to offer a contrast to the dancer’s elemental character; he so grounded, she so ‘other’.
A sequence using small lights around the space began well, especially when the focus was on how she was engaged with placing them – her intention, their relation to her story, creating constellations around herself, of which she was seamlessly a part – but it then seemed to be more about where she was placing them, which again comes back to the visibility problem. Then the house went to almost darkness, and the dancer began moving two lights at speed, rhythmically, which was too reminiscent of the final hours of a festival when the glow poi come out; it cheapened what had gone before, and was a marked difference to the final moment, where she extinguished the last light against her chest – a subtle gesture that redeemed it at the last.
It was also disconcerting that the company chose to use known music – particularly a Bjork track – on the soundtrack. It’s a tricky decision; are they intending to bring the weight of all we associate with such a massive musical presence into this particular space? If so, why? For me, it immediately distracted me from my relationship with the dancer, diminishing the connection that she’d worked so hard to establish.