Music: Daniel Wohl
Artistic Director & Choreographer: Alexander Whitley
Video Artist: Tai Rosner
Reviewer: Jo Beggs
“The bodies in the space and the space are two aspects of the single continuum” says the narrator, speaking the words of British philosopher and writer Alan Watts. For an hour, The Lowry’s Quays Theatre, seven dancers and an awestruck audience might as well be the only space in the universe, such is the intensity of Alexander Whitley’s 8 Minutes.
8 Minutes, the title referring to the amount of time it takes the sun’s rays to reach the earth, is a collaboration between Alexander Whitley and Planetary Scientist Dr. Hugh Mortimer. When offered the chance to work on a piece which explored solar physics, Whitley saw the broad possibilities of how dance could give expression to some of the complex scientific knowledge we have of the universe, but also the broader cultural ideas and beliefs about the largest star in our solar system, and the rhythms that is gives to our lives.
Swathed in tight black leathery costumes, the dancers undulate in and out, drawing together and pushing apart, bathed in orange light. There’s a backdrop of black and white projections, abstract but reminiscent of everything from squirming cells in a petri dish to old school video games, all exquisitely rendered by Video Artist Tai Rosner.
As the screen turns to static the score becomes darkly threatening, sounding like messages through broken airwaves, leaving the dancers alone in a cold void. Then, we’re thrown into the blackness of space, watching the International Space Station turning, it, and us, surveying the Earth. Each iteration of the universe highlights either the greatness of man’s scientific feats, or his irrelevance in the universe. The bodies in the space seem huge and powerful, then tiny and vulnerable. Whitley brilliantly juxtaposes the co-operation of the group with the lone body, hard science with Eastern philosophy. Warm reds and cool blues from the screen and from Jackie Shemesh’s subtle lighting design offer a changing, complex and wonderful world.
Rosner’s fabulous abstract rural and urban landscapes create a (sometimes slightly distracting) backdrop to some of the most original choreography in the piece. Dancers move as though in a speeded up film, going about tedious tasks. We see days pass in a few minutes as their bodies scuttle and twitch through the repetition of the everyday. As they rest we’re reminded of sleep experiments, the movements of the unconscious, defenceless bodies stopped in time while the universe moves on around them.
There are vast ensemble scenes which make it hardly believable that there are only seven dancers on the stage, tender duets and short solos. Pauses between scenes happen in blackout which, after the brightness of the projections has a powerfully alienating, and yet strangely calming effect. Technically the show is spot on, the score is played slightly below ear-shattering and the size and scope of the projections fill the stage.
This powerful and joyful work comes to the Lowry as part of the Manchester Science Festival. Visually rich, with superb and striking choreography, it deserves a long life beyond this very short UK tour.
Reviewed on 10 October 2017 | Image: Johan Persson