Choreographers: Mavin Khoo and Ivan Perez Aviles
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Finding out who we are is one of life’s great challenges; some people find happiness in conformity, being like everyone else, accepted into the crowd, while others are destined to find their own path. The support we draw from others can equally conflict or confirm who we are supposed to be, and in two new short dance pieces presented in the Lilian Bayliss Studio at Sadler’s Wells, ZfinMalta Dance Ensemble takes a philosophical approach to human understanding and interaction.
The first dance is called Home and depicts the birth of a young man and how his individuality is shaped by the people, emotions and experiences he encounters along the way. It begins as a fairly linear tale with a pre-recorded narrator addressing the audience, while on stage dancer Jure Gostincar enacts a section on child-like learning of sounds, speech and coordinated movement gleaned from the Ensemble. It’s an interesting section showing the protagonist honing his skills from being marginally out of sync to fully integrated into his new group of friends performed by Zoe Camilleri, Florinda Camilleri, Martina Zammit, Danae Dimitriadi, Keith Micallef, Joao Castro and Nico Monaco.
He then goes through a series of less clear developments as he is encouraged to compare muscles in a brief focus on manliness before asking himself “Who am I, fight for me” and then an extended tug of war sequence on the joys and pitfalls of love. In this hour-long piece, there are lots of skilled acrobatics, some clowning – the entire cast wear elasticated round noses to show their conformity – lots of meaningful movement (although it’s not always clear what the meaning is supposed to be) and people laughing manically for seemingly no reason.
Some of the later sections are much easier to grasp and a scene on life being a race in which the individual will variably pull ahead and fall behind is well staged as the group mime a changing sprint. Similarly, the narrator’s moments of freedom have a lightness and exuberance that lift the show, symbolically expressed by the removal of the nose and a black jacket, but the piece doesn’t elicit any particular feelings of sympathy or association with the tribulations of the central figure.
After a brief interval, a 25-minute duet Kick the Bucket follows which the programme notes describe as focusing on making the most of life and letting go which also opens with a narrative frame, this time spoken directly to the audience by dancer and ZfinMalta’s Artistic Director Mavin Khoo. “A human being is ultimately unknowable” the audience is told and we can only ever really know what’s on the surface, but “words cast an almost hypnotic spell on you”. Again it’s not obvious what this has to do with what follows but it does create a wistful tone.
As with the first dance, Kick the Bucket relies on a mixture of dance and gymnastics that implies various emotions at different stages of the performance. Whether dancers Khoo and Gabin Corredor are meant to be a couple is unclear, but their ‘relationship’ offers periods of softness and sensitivity, as well as actual head-grabbing moments of aggression. The power frequently shifts between them as one or other takes precedence in what seems like a teasing battle or two boxers squaring-up, that quickly becomes about support and protection.
But again it all looks very pretty and the performers create lots of lovely shapes and a sense of fluidity, yet the story doesn’t really develop from beginning to end, it’s just a series of movements, sometimes clinically getting them from A to B which, despite its philosophical focus, doesn’t really mean very much.
ZfinMalta’s dance quality is certainly high and the dancers are skilled acrobats, while Khoo, along with sound designer Niels Plotard have plundered world music for an eclectic mix of rhythms and effects, but in both shows the set design – a washing line for Home and some hanging shrapnel-like masks for Kick the Bucket – appear to have no relevance to the performance. With so many interesting elements and an endlessly fascinating focus on self-identity and consciousness that could demand attention from the audience, From Home with Love really could have been much more emotive than this.
Reviewed on 10 February 2017 | Image: Darren Zammit Lupi