Direction and Choreography: Suzy Willson
Music: Paul Clark
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
An Anatomie in Four Quarters is a significant event for The Lowry. It marks the launch of their new Week 53 Festival, which is presenting 11 days of diverse and innovative local, national and international performances and exhibitions, featuring more than 200 artists across all areas of the building, including non-conventional spaces.
The show also marks the beginning of a new relationship between The Lowry and pioneering interdisciplinary theatre company Clod Ensemble, who make work that blends music, dance and physical theatre, driven by director/choreographer Suzy Willson and musician/composer Paul Clark.
An Anatomie explores the connection between anatomy and performance – the ‘science of seeing’. It draws from ideas of the mechanics of the body, revealing what lies beneath the skin, considering art that has derived from the study of anatomy, from Renaissance drawings to modern photography. The show also considers the nature of seeing and observation and perspective: which is where the audience comes in.
The Lyric theatre at The Lowry seats 1700. An Anatomie in Four Quarters is performed for an audience of 200, and this is where this show makes the transition from theatre performance to remarkable theatre experience. The audience begin the show sitting at the back of the Upper Circle, are then moved to the centre of the Grand Circle, then the stalls, before being invited onto the stage, where the last section of the show is watched from benches at the back of the stage. Almost unaware, the audience become part of the show.
As a piece of dance An Anatomie is perfectly rewarding. The choreography is effortlessly-performed classically-rooted contemporary dance for an impressive company of ten: elegant, precise, innovative, exciting. The dance element of the show exudes real quality. But what starts to elevate this show to an entirely different level is the inclusion of exquisite live music from members of Manchester Camerata, exciting rock bombast from bassist and conductor James Keane and drummer Vanessa Domonique, and glorious opera from Melanie Pappenheim, who sings from an anatomy slab in the middle of the stalls in nothing but a silk slip. But then there is the use of live and recorded text: voices that hover around your consciousness, unseen, hard to trace.
The technical delivery of this show is a marvel. With such a (relatively) small audience and such a large space to utilise, the theatre itself and its architectural anatomy become the final character in this audaciously-constructed show. Sound is everywhere: technically really good sound. The different spaces – not just the stage – are wonderfully lit. Small surprises abound. The audience moves from level to level using the usually-staff-access only stairs – that are filled with music. As the show progresses, the theatre and staging are deconstructed. And the more this happens the more magical it becomes. As the veil of mystery is pulled away, a veil of wonder replaces it. By the time the audience are invited to the stage, the wings and back of the stage are fully exposed. The massive scale and extent of the Lyric stage is a wonder to behold. The metal sky of the grid is astonishingly far above. The bare mechanics are beautiful; epic in scale.
By this point, the dancers – first viewed from on high in the upper circle – are floor-close, and the audience are treated to previously-seen choreography from a different perspective.
Somehow, although there has been much sitting down, getting up and walking of stairs, the audience has made a seemingly-magical journey from the ‘cheap seats’ to the back of the stage itself. Before the curtain fails, the dancers are far away at the front of the stage, their backs to us as they bow to an audience that is no longer there. The audience and performers have become one, still distinct but together, performing a show to an empty theatre.
For anyone with an interest in theatre this is a fantastic and unique experience: to see a show from different physical perspectives; to see the mechanics, the beautiful bare bones of a modern theatre – places forbidden to us, things we are perhaps normally distracted from if they become apparent; to become part of a show that requires no effort from other than presence and wonder. And this is all underpinned by a musical and dance theatre performance that would have been perfectly satisfying if you had just walked in, sat down and watched it on the stage.
Altogether, An Anatomie is unmissable for anyone interested in dance, physical performance and theatres: special places where magic happens. The kind of show that gets banked along with other shows that stay with you; shows that are significant, important: personal game-changers.
Runs until 30 April | Image:Manuel Vason