Riccardo Buscarini was the Place Prize for Dance 2013 winner with Athletes, a piece for three female dancers. Two years on he returns to The Place with No Lander, a work based around the themes of Homer’s Odyssey and featuring a company of five male dancers.
No Lander begins in a slow and unassuming manner, the black box of the stage dark and bare. The dancers, dressed in black tops and trousers, carefully explore their stark environment, rolling across the floor or burrowing beneath it. The lighting is minimal, brighter on the audience than on the performers and this reversal, for the initial moments at least, creates an uncomfortable sense of isolation. Like Odysseus drifting across the seas there is nothing for these performers to rely on. Even the sounds of their bodies against the floor are captured and transformed into the soundtrack.
Buscarini continues to build his work with this same rawness and simplicity. His dancers slip through a series of tasks, many revolving around the themes of separation and a need to belong. Sometimes a dancer is segregated from the group to perform a lonely solo or intimate duet, but often the five men dance together supporting and assisting each other. In one scene of intricate contact work they pull on limbs and use each other’s bodies to cross from one point to another. It’s essentially a classroom exercise polished and set on stage. While it’s interesting to watch the dancers’ bodies entangle or to see the group dynamics shift as the pace of movement changes, the sense that the dancers have purely been given this task to investigate Buscarini’s ideas remains. It’s a feeling that lingers throughout the piece – once a task is completed, the company merely move on to the next.
Given that Homer’s Odyssey is likewise of an episodic nature this could be construed as an artistic choice and, in many ways, No Lander’s lack of confines allows for some moments of incredible intensity. There’s a grappling duet where the dancers try to pull each other apart with their fingertips, climbing on and clinging to one another in the effort of their task. In another the dancers pair up to form monstrous, lizard-like creatures that challenge each other in a realistically primal encounter. The dancers seem completely absorbed by what they are doing and the authenticity of their concentration draws you in. It is in these moments of intense focus, often when the dancers break from the group to perform solo or as a duet, that we get a hint of something deeper behind the series of images presented before us.
That each new scene can be a blank canvas, a fresh exploration for performers and audience alike, is a refreshing and potentially intriguing concept, yet as a staged work it perhaps needs more coherence and less obscurity. While No Lander brushes tantalisingly close to meaning no singular section progresses enough to reach a conclusion. The result is that when the piece concludes you are left wondering what really happened.