There are many memorable moments in Lucy Bennett’s Artificial Things, bold and disarming as it is, but one stands out in particular: a serene duet in which two disabled dancers, wheelchairs abandoned, take turns supporting each other as they glide across a stage strewn with snowflakes, their bodies entwined in corporeal harmony under soft blue beams. With its choreographic reciprocity and hints of vulnerability, the scene epitomises the broader themes present in the piece, among them human interdependence and social integration. That Artificial Things resonates not as a static portrait of these themes but an ongoing dialogue about their cultural significance is perhaps its greatest feat.
The troupe behind this work, Stopgap Dance Company, is a pioneering collective of disabled and non-disabled dancers whose aim is, in the words of Bennett, “to expose the different degrees to which cohesion can be attained.” The five dancers in Artificial Things commence this task with an opening act entitled “Communication Room” in which they cautiously explore ways to interact with one another, adopting an experimental movement vocabulary incorporating lifts, weight transfers and counter-balances. The entrance of Laura Jones, who many will remember from her role as dance captain in the 2012 Paralympic opening ceremony, is a particular highlight – her sharp, strong torso contractions imply a defiant sense of independence, but once she begins moving in tandem with her fellow dancers, this crisp veneer warms to something more tender and receptive.
The subsequent act, “A Colourful Plan,” introduces an explosive aesthetic that has the scene crackling with tension. Dave Toole, another veteran of the 2012 Paralympic performance, joins the group for a riotous jig involving rock music, circus imagery and a curiously cheerful remote-controlled vacuum cleaner called Henry. These absurdist touches lend an air of volatility and go a long way in dismantling the delicate equanimity established in the preceding act. The scene was devised by the dancers themselves, and the organic, seamless way each phrase gives way to another is evidence their choreographic strength rivals that of their technique. The mood morphs from exuberant to manic as Chris Pavia, playing a compère of sorts, is forced to confront his own jerking image in a mirror, and the act closes with his suicide, such is the distress of his self-examination.
The final segment resumes the composure of the first, although the mood is more tranquil this time around. Snow has settled gently on the scene, and we’re treated to a series of fluid, silky phrases, among them a moving passage in which Toole dons the jacket of a be-suited mannequin and leaves just a pair of legs behind, his actions speaking to an idealised interpretation of wholeness that transcends physicality. By the time the dancers form their final tableau, their coexistence is manifest, their unity fully realised.
A collective style prevails throughout Artificial Things, one marked by linearity and a focus on the core, but each dancer manages to bring an individual voice to their movement. Their ability to coalesce these voices into something greater than the sum of its parts is a commendable accomplishment, and a powerful one at that.