Choreography: Kevin Edward Turner and Anthony Missen
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
Company Chameleon – now only one year from celebrating their tenth anniversary – are one of the UK’s leading independent dance companies: they are Manchester’s very own leading dance company. Their latest show, now ending a short tour at The Lowry, is Witness – a double bill of Words Unspoken and Witness itself.
Words Unspoken, choreographed by co-Artistic Directors and founder members Kevin Edward Turner and Anthony Missen, was originally created for Spanish company La Mov. Words Unspoken is a twenty-minute, tightly-choreographed group work that explores the ‘untold secrets’ of the performers on stage. Rangy and dynamic, this piece demonstrates the development of Chameleon’s choreography – unusual lifts, touch and response connectivity, swooping, hunched to the floor stances and bold physicality.
Chameleon started very much as a men’s company but their movement language looks distinctive and powerful on women, as growth has allowed the addition of additional dancers. At first, the strong presence of Taylor Benjamin dominates but Theo Fapohunda puts in some strong solo and duet work when lifted from the group and given his own space. His duet with Margarida Macieira is an impressive display of controlled aggression and unspoken dialogue. The section where four of the five slowly strip one another’s clothes off under a lone, warm bulb is teasingly erotic.
Witness is a highly-personal, partially-autobiographical work by choreographer and director Kevin Edward Turner. With a fairly linear narrative Witness is an account of his personal battles with bipolar disorder, moving through depression and conflicting battles with super-confidence and feelings of low self-worth; the piece moves through to full-blown crisis requiring medical intervention and eventually, recovery and hope. Witness puts a focus on the role of family and friends: unable to be bystanders, unable to help. The work aims to shine a light on mental health issues, breaking the silence and contributing to the wider societal debate on mental health.
The choreography is strong and communicative. Turner is a powerful and charismatic dancer, ably supported by the rest of the company, and he has created some interesting movement for everyone around himself. A tender duet between Helen Andrew and Macieira is lovely and it is impressive to see Andrew and Macieira working with Turner in some highly physical movement where they lift and support him. The final section when family and loved ones slowly lead Turner to the light and form a supportive circle is rather moving.
But somehow the strength of Witness – its highly personal nature – is problematic. The lack of other voices and perspectives limits the opportunity to interrogate or explore the issues with any detachment or nuance. Some sections – with Turner in turmoil and Benjamin embodied as his mindlessly positive voice and Theo Fapohunda as his starkly negative one, and the section set in a secure institution with white-coated psychiatric staff and others in crisis – are uncomfortable to watch. Which may well be the intention. The Flash section, which could have provided some much-needed humour, for all Taylor Benjamin’s precise and energetic physicality, feels awkward and oddly-placed. Ironically, for a subject bereft of much to laugh about, Witness would benefit from some lightness and humour.
As a piece of choreography Witness has much to enjoy but it treads an uncertain path between dance, drama and physical theatre. A courageous piece of work and a significant attempt to speak out on a still-taboo subject, but not especially enjoyable to watch, if that matters. Maybe the discomfort is a deliberate challenge to complacency: witness to words unspoken.
Runs until 30 November, 2016 | Image: Joel C Fildes