Each night of Resolution 2018 at The Place, the UK’s largest dance festival for emerging artists, three new works from exciting choreographers are shown. On February 14th, the line-up included GoldHill Dance Company’s Hand Towards, Nicole McDowall’s Nelum and Arielle Smith’s Lots of Varied Expectations.
Hand Towards is a playful work that drifts with a delicate, sometimes anxious, hesitancy around the stage and through various emotional states. Choreographed and performed by Kiri Golding and Emma Hill, it seems to be about their relationship – its emotional shifts and physical repartee. With fluctuating implications of narrative (or numerous narratives) the choreography oscillates through moments of mutual support, pleasure, and game-playing, punctuated by mood shifts, swings, implications of claustrophobia or frustrations of inconsistency.
Much like any relationship, the pleasures and playfulness are the most keenly felt (and have stuck in my mind the longest). “Dramas” can be tiresome (generally speaking), and here, although never overwrought as such, moments of possible conflict were the most likely to be studded with cliched gestures that counteracted a softer authorial hand – this softer grip has the potential to allow the work to meander into a potentially unpredictable and generative vocabulary.
The pace of Nicole McDowall’s solo Nelum is gradual – steadily growing with intensity and a stern sensuousness. Resting in gorgeously restrained lighting for much of the piece, there is a quality of fierce distance to both the aesthetic and McDowall’s movement and attitude. You are simultaneously drawn into the darkness and denied by it. Yet, the choreography also seems to proffer moments of tentative exposure, the slightest faults – shifts in the fluidity of McDowall’s hip-hop inspired movement and the gravity of her poise – that drop style momentarily, to allow us to see something of the vulnerability behind the strength of her exterior.
It seems. ‘Allow’ is a difficult word here – it implies, perhaps, an access to ‘something’ has been ‘given’ – an honest exposition that we can only presume we are actually ‘getting’. This tension, the play of distance and what is shown, the inaccessibility of identity (particularly across the divide between performer and audience, where so much can be violently assumed or misunderstood), comes to a peak when the blast of light fills the stage and McDowall strides with awesome authority towards the audience. It’s deliciously arrogant (I would say self-assured, but that wouldn’t do justice to the flare of this moment), hauty and audacious, it refuses and asserts with tremendous clarity. Coming from a black female artist, and an emerging choreographer/performer, it’s an impressive and vital, provocation.
Arielle Smith’s Lots of Varied Expectations was received with palpable glee and pleasure by the audience. Light, playful and entertaining, and set to a soundtrack including Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong, it imparts a strong sense of wide-eyed nostalgia and rose-tinted idealism. With much abandon and zeal, the cast shift through a series vignettes on love – mini-romantic narratives between couples, initially all heterosexual, comically waltzing through desperation, longing, joyous union and heartbreak.
Moving later to a same-sex pairing between two women, however, I note a particular change in attitude. These two women seemed to be the only performers conscious of being looked at by us, an audience ‘for’ whom they might be dancing. Other dancers have performed to us, communicating comedy and narrative through expression, but the consciousness these dancers had of their body and their performance opened up an unanswered question, as they ignored each other in favour of our gaze.
Nearing the end, again, I’m caught by a moment of dissonance to the warmth, charm and whimsy. While the ensemble are pairing off, a lone woman stands, looking out into the audience, uninvolved and separated. This doesn’t become a problem for the work to deal with, an act of difference that it might have to alter in relation to. This character’s soft non-participation isn’t allowed to just be either – all must be absorbed into the warm glow of the work – and she too falls into the arms of her fellow dancers – into love, expectation, pleasure, hedonism? – without resistance or concern.
Resolution 2018 continues at The Place until February 23rd. For more details, click here.