10, the new triple bill by Manchester based Company Chameleon, revisits the first major work by the company alongside two new works choreographed by the company’s founders, Kevin Edward Turner and Anthony Missen.
In a style characteristic of Company Chameleon, all three pieces feature athletic, highly physical choreography, and all tackle personal and social themes. Yet for a company celebrating its 10th anniversary year, it is perhaps not the strongest bill of work that could have been presented.
It is the first work of the evening that turns out to be the most engaging. Imprint, a new piece choreographed by Turner, revolves around two duets. The first duet, between female dancer Maddie Shimwell and Turner, slips between a tone of support and aggression. Attentive actions, where the two lean upon and draw close to one another, give way to movement that is forceful, almost violent, in its intention. The shift turns moments of intimacy into a situation that Shimwell appears compelled to escape from. With its rapid changes of tone the sentiment of this work at times feels confused. However the sense of struggle is clear, as is the portrayal of a difficult and unsustainable relationship.
The same tone continues through into Imprint’s second duet, this time between Shimwell and male dancer, David Colley. Their complex and highly physical contact work, in which lifts and partnering are shared equally between the dancers, is in itself engaging, but the most striking aspect is the work’s sense of resolution. Gradually, the aggressive undertone shifts and the movement becomes more caring and intimate.
Imprint claims to explore how we are shaped by love. The love seen here is not a version commonly portrayed but it is, perhaps, a more real depiction of a relationship and reflects the desire of this company to confront difficult subjects. There are times where the impulse to show a challenging movement overtakes the intention behind it but, unlike the following works, Imprint does not force a view point upon its audience. Instead, the ideas are allowed to resonate through the movement and the work is richer for it.
The following two works, a new solo by Anthony Missen and a revival of Rites, the first major piece created by the company, suffer from a literal and over characterised interpretation of their themes.
Missen’s solo, Trip, performed by dancer Theo Fapohunda, takes a theatrical approach. It’s themes of identity and self-deception offer an intriguing premise. Yet, in its play upon the idea of ‘what is an act’ and ‘what is truth’, the work’s own intentions become confused.
Fapohunda enters as a confident character, his blue suit and yellow shirt equally bold and brash. His ensuing breakdown in the spotlight – marked by a stuttering collapse of his speech and juddering, isolated movements that pulsate through his body – feels an obvious and over emphasised interpretation.
Trip wanders between comedy and seriousness and between its ideas of identity, honesty and personal struggle – themes that are all well intended, but not clearly expressed. That confusion is most noticeable in a speech delivered by Fapohunda, the words of which grasp briefly at each idea without drawing any real conclusions. It’s a shame that for a subject with plenty to offer, the result feels forced and over dramatic. Perhaps with the input of more varied theatrical devices, the ideas of this work could be expressed with greater impact.
Rites, a work created 10 years previously and the first major piece presented by the company, has similar difficulties. A male duet, it explores the transition from boyhood to manhood, but it does so through the stereotypical image of the alpha male.
Again, the physicality of the work is strong but its ideas are heavy-handed. The two characters interchange between a violent controlling father-like figure, a playful child, and an ape. While those basic images are clear, the ideas they aim to express are less refined. There are moments of interaction that are forceful, even physically violent, and the same tone is reflected in the performer’s heavy, frustrated movement language, in which their bodies are repeatedly thrown against the floor.
There’s a lot of potential for dance and theatre to confront challenging subjects, but sometimes the attempt at doing so can be uncomfortable to watch due to the way it is portrayed rather than because of the subject matter. This is the case with Rites. Ten years on from its creation, it could certainly have benefited from revision and refinement.
Company Chameleon are not afraid to tackle difficult topics or create socially relevant work and, through doing so, they have become a key figure in the Manchester dance scene. This particular triple bill may not be the strongest selection of work. Yet, perhaps with a wider scope of artistic input, there’s the potential for much more from a company just ten years young.
10 was reviewed at The Place, London. It’s currently on tour: more info here.