Dance On Ensemble: London Story & never ending (Story) – Elixir Festival, Sadler’s Wells, London

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Choreographers: Merce Cunningham and Mathilde Monnier

Director: Daniel Squire

A double bill of responsive pieces, Dance on Ensemble’s London Story and never ending (Story) are quite different interpretations of Merce Cunningham’s 1963 piece Story, focusing on assorted movement, placement and the interaction of dancers across each of the 30-minute performances. Sharing contemporary approaches, the dances choreographed by Cunningham and Mathilde Monnier elicit different levels of meaning from their approaches.

First to perform is London Story where the choreographic timetable for the performance laid out by Cunningham is framed on three chalkboards placed around the room that detail to the minute and second what should be happening throughout. It is an interesting idea, giving the presentation shape and additional drive by the addition of a counter clock that allows the viewer to both see and anticipate what is to come across the free-flowing 30 minutes of story. Signalling solos, arm trips and hopping as well as duets proscribed by Cunningham’s original plan, the record doesn’t quite run to time but allows the tracking of the dance as a conscious process that sits outside the movement itself.

The performance has a ballet base, big lunges and stretches that flow in patterns across the stage while the dancers change costumes regularly from a distracting pile of clothes at the back of the room – just as Cunningham’s 1963 originals did. Around them, artist Christopher Matthews creates neon stick figures in athletic poses to frame the action, artworks coming to life as the show unfolds. What it all means isn’t obvious; there is a focus on physicality and placed movements, while the soundscape of increasingly intense traffic noises, rumbling guitar sounds and spacey electronic notes creates intensity that builds to a clear conclusion.

The second dance is far more open about itself, Monnier’s never ending (Story) is a piece with almost no music, sound created by the physical movement of the dancers and the changing rhythms of their footwork. It begins with synchronicity and patterns of sound that reflect the physicality of the performance, and like London Story, there is a central athleticism in the vigour of the steps and shapes being created as well as the visual impact of Monnier’s costume choices.

The unusual element of this second section is the choreographers’ narration, spoken by the dancers as they move. Monnier’s words actively engage with Cunningham’s choices, discussing the context for the creation of never ending (Story) and Cunningham’s poetic ethos. This dialogue between Monnier’s work, which breaks down into greater individualism as this 30-minute dance unfolds, and its inspiration is continually engaging as it grapples with concepts of musicality, form and structure.

This Dance On Ensemble double bill is advertised with a 60-minute running time which doesn’t include an additional interval, taking the evening to 105 minutes in total. Presenting two quite different responses that celebrate Cunningham’s work, meaning is elusive which may frustrate but there is technical inventiveness and momentum to enjoy across this tribute collection.

Reviewed on 17 April 2023

Sadler’s Wells Elixir Festival runs until 20 April 2024

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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