You first get the sense that this isn’t your usual dance event when you’re handed a bin bag to wear as you prepare to file into the tiny Print Room; there’s a hint of log flume ride about it – but more of that later.
Hubert Essakow’s Flow has water as its theme – not just as a choreographic stimulus, but also its environmental aspect. It’s a compelling idea, and one that is certainly topical amid the drought and flood stories of the past few years.
Sitting in the centre of the small blacked-out room is a shallow pool with a striking white pillar at its heart on which imagery of water is projected, as if it were a melting block of ice.
A series of supports near the beginning which involve all five dancers look fantastic, suggesting that water is the foundation of our being, and when these same dancers reach for the smoke in a later section, their delicately balanced formations are reminiscent of ocean waves. Michael Gregson’s brooding score is also powerful, with an underlying darkness in the strings which conveys a hint of fatalism.
But there are times when Flow feels like an overly simplistic exploration of an intriguing idea. The section in which names of water-related diseases flash up on the white pillar, accompanied by awkward, jolty movements under the dim lights, bears an unfortunate resemblance to an 80s public health advert.
We get only a short glimpse of some promising duets before being abruptly interrupted by statistics about water. Elsewhere, the wonderful Thomasin Gulgec’s strong arms and core are put to good use in some breakdance-inspired freezes, but these are totally different to how the others move.
True, Flow isn’t ‘pure’ dance as such – it calls itself a “dance experience” – but the part in which the dancers talk about their water-based experiences jars with the rest of the piece, especially as Daniel Hay-Gordon has to walk off to bring back a bucket and paddle – it looks too much like a rehearsal. That said, the proceeding sequence in which the dancers half-mimic the voiceover’s almost poetic prose featuring numerous water-related references (“sparkling water”, “bridge over troubled water”) does raise a smile.
But, by handing out the bin-liners, of course, everyone ended up waiting for “the wet bit”. And the showers from sprinklers on the ceiling and streams through a clever plumbing system within the pool do look great in this dimly lit space. The kicks, leaps and ronds de jambe look all the more dramatic and visually pleasing when executed in the water, but the childlike jumping and splashing around is less compelling. The short length of this section means it feels a little like an exercise in novelty with no strong reason for its inclusion. Indeed, running at under 45 minutes, the whole piece feels a little like this, like too much has been packed into it without sufficient thought to how it will all fit.