It takes about eight minutes for a photon – a subatomic particle that transmits light from the sun – to reach earth. I think. Excuse my physics – I tentatively bring you this information from the online encyclopaedia in order to explain the title of Alexander Whitley’s latest work, an exploration of solar physics via contemporary dance made in collaboration with scientists from an Oxford lab.
However, Whitley’s Eight Minutes is something of an abortive mission, despite the potentially fascinating concepts that hover around it, especially the idea that both dance and physics study the movement and behaviour of bodies in space, whether that’s on the level of microscopic particles, vast planetary forms or individual human beings.
Contemplating the incomprehensible enormity of space could inspire imaginative greatness, trigger an existential crisis, or bring on a headache and the need of a Hobnob. But it’s hard to say exactly what Whitley’s dance is actually communicating. It’s a rather shallow transmission that lacks the emotional content and felt quality that gives dance its universality as a physical language.
Eight Minutes strives for a shiny veneer of intellectual credibility via a quick dip into scientific data. But foisting this onto dance does neither discipline any favours. Actually, the dance element is secondary here, overshadowed by Tal Rosner’s undeniably impressive, ever-shifting visual installation that sits at the back of the stage. We see kaleidoscopic patterns, soupy lava lamp swirls, glaring shafts of light and an encroaching gold molten orb that looks intimidating but also a bit like a Ferrero Rocher.
In front of all this razzmatazz, seven dancers in black leathery bodysuits form constellatory patterns, their bodies roiling and undulating, arms tracing impersonal currents of energy. Sometimes they judder, twitch and jiggle as though on a fast-forward setting, their familiar pedestrian gestures (arms akimbo, hand to forehead) and encounters accelerated through a cosmic, macro-scale lens.
Though there are some fine and graceful duets, the dancers remain impassively atomised. A sterile chill hangs over all these highly-produced proceedings, accompanied by Daniel Wohl’s score, which goes from ambient to piercing with attendant throbbing and crunching noises.
Whitley is a talented choreographer, so it’s disappointing that Eight Minutes fails to lift off and instead sputters and spins like a dodgy Sputnik into the realm of repetitious blandness. It should be mind-bending – the result is merely boring.
Eight Minutes is touring throughout the autumn. Click here for more information.