Bricolage Dance Movement’s latest offering is a showcase of cross-disciplinary choreography and formal experimentation, a celebration of modern dance and its faculty as a narrative device for stories past and present. The Space, the Docklands church conversion chosen for the performance, proves an apt venue for Story of a Night Pianist: freighted with the gritty history of the surrounding Isle of Dogs, the sober site lends a befittingly eerie ambiance to the show’s four pieces, which between them explore a variety of compelling themes, from self-restraint and artistic sensibility to adolescent memories, spirituality and social mobility.
The first act is comprised of three solos, each transfixed on individual introspective objectives. Artism, choreographed by David Gellura and Eric K Nyirabahunde and performed by the former, is pulsating and erotic, meditating on motifs of power and sensitivity and posing fluid undulations and slithery floorwork against a throbbing backbeat. Gellura delivers a fiery performance, his dexterity strong enough to command the calculated recklessness required and his stance firmly impassioned throughout.
Nefeli Tsiouti offers a decent turn in Mikkel Svak’s ambitious Echo, which delves into the struggle between former and present selves, flitting regularly between nimble pointework and uninhibited break dancing. Billed as ‘a duet for one dancer and herself,’ the piece exudes soul and makes deft use of its binary structure as a vehicle for examining conflicting identities; still, it’s difficult not to compare the two opposing styles, the latter of which ultimately proves more compelling from a choreographic standpoint and better suited technically to the dancer at hand.
David Waker’s Rising Pheasant is similarly bold in its a capella format and unconventional composition, which employs hints of martial arts and B-boying technique in a reconciliation of ancient Eastern mysticism and contemporary break dance politics. The piece resonates as more of an exercise in motion than dance proper, with Waker’s audible breathing standing in as meditative music of its own.
Though powerful in their own right, the aforementioned pieces are but appetizers to the mixed bill’s main course, Anna Buonomo’s Story of a Night Pianist. Inspired by a spectral encounter composer Maestro Lorenzo Turchi-Floris claims to have experienced one spooky night, SONP harnesses the stark spirit of Victorian urbanisation and presents a haunting glimpse into the poverty and social inequity that plagued the era. In keeping with Buonomo’s professed love for site-specific theatre, the audience is invited to follow a single violinist through the cobblestoned alleyways of the local Docklands neighbourhood, where ‘Trapped Souls’ are planted at every turn: swinging from fences, perched in trees, peeking from alleyways and stuffed into phone boxes, each clamouring wildly for salvation.
The effect – while fairly gimmicky, what with the haunted house scare tactics and grubby London Dungeon-esque costuming – is undeniably powerful: led only by dim streetlamps and the waning whine of a violin, it’s easy to picture a dismal nineteenth-century district haunted by a bevy of hungry children and destitute parents. The dancing itself is largely improvisational, bar several choreographed duets and an indulgent piano-aided coda at the end, and occasionally errs towards the overly affected deportment embraced by earnest, green thespians.
That said, the unscripted moments accompanying this showy procession – evidence of an effective site-specific production, surely – are a joy to witness: curious children in nightgowns peering from balconies, confused pedestrians muttering suspiciously into their mobile phones, surly teenagers stamping out cigarettes and sauntering over to the site of action, all striving for a closer glimpse, another attempt to decipher the striking spectacle at hand.