ContemporaryDanceNorth WestPhysical TheatreReview

 Illuminate – Manchester Central Library 

Artistic Direction: Kevin Edward Turner

Choreography: Kevin Edward Turner, Anthony Missen

Musical Direction: Miguel Marin

Reviewer: Peter Jacobs

Illuminate is a site-specific promenade dance performance created by Manchester dance company Company Chameleon and commissioned by Manchester Central Library for their Library Live cultural events programme.

Illuminate explores seven themes or plot-lines that have underpinned literature through the centuries, in an attempt to bring literature alive through dance: from the shelves to the floor.

The show begins outside with the performers on the front steps of the Library (the audience are penned just outside in an unfortunate chilly drizzle – but it is a November evening). Overcoming The Monster takes a psychological approach to the presence of the monster, which manifests as a rather literal display of a character in white (Theo Fapohunda) literally tormented by his own rictus-grinning animalistic demons, who he eventually manages to overcome.

Then, inside for Comedy in the Shakespeare Hall, which draws clear comedic elements from Shakespeare’s comedies: three rambunctious boys show out for the attention of three flirty girls before a couple emerges in a feisty take on Romeo and Juliet. This is a fun, light piece that makes good use of the stairs and balconies on offer.

Further into the building to the Performance Space for Voyage & Return, which is a thinly-plotted ‘soldier goes to war, leaves his lover, returns from war to his lover a changed man’ tale: mournfully soundtracked by bugle-like horns. Helen Andrew is magnetic in dealing with Fapohunda’s damaged returnee. It’s a simple piece likely to create a connection for many.

To the Café for Quest, choreography by the other Chameleon, Anthony Missen, on Chameleon Youth, the companies mixed-age youth arm. Looking at themes of leadership and emergence and defeat, Missen gives this diverse group some admirably-challenging choreography and a poetic exploratory feel that keeps this large group interesting – and some of these teenagers are inspiringly impressive dancers already. Having the excellent lad in the wheelchair end up triumphant is a nice touch – as is his clever duet with the last girl standing.

Then to the staircase where the audience are divided for two simultaneous performances (we are then switched). Rags To Riches is two small, gendered performances: two magnificent stags (or fauns) battle for wealth and supremacy. This male duet for Fapohunda and David Colley is highly physical within the small space and packs a dance-thrill punch with its daring physicality. The other performance, which takes place on the glass staircase that spirals the lifts, considers the value placed on female beauty and objectification. This trio is finely-costumed in corsetry and mini-crinolines, and the neatly-crafted, detailed choreography looks exquisite on the three: Alice Bonazzi, Maddie Shimwell and Sara Marques.

Back to the Performance Space for Tragedy, which is Turner’s most interesting choreography so far. An abstract look at the duality of sadness and the connections and separations that link and divide us. Cally Statham’s music is mournfully lovely and the piece is drenched with a palpable sense of loss and sorrow: the feelings within made achingly manifest.

Finally, to the Library’s magnificent domed Reading Room: one of the most beautiful spaces in the city, looking elegant and crisp from the Library’s still-recent refurbishment. An impressive twenty plus dancers in white occupy the spokes of the reading tables, performing detailed choreography before running round the centre and resetting and running again and resetting before finally being drawn to the light of illumination and knowledge at the centre. Rebirth explores knowledge and illumination and reinvention through harmony and patterns and repetition. Miguel Marin’s score augmented with live voices (from the University of Salford), the scale and ambition of this piece makes perfect use of the enormous room and makes for a thrilling end to the event.

Illuminate is an ambitious and mostly well-realised exploration of different themes within the spaces of the landmark Library. The evening is one of growing returns as each piece seems to draw more creativity and imagination from the creative team. The assembly of dancers is impressive, blending Chameleon’s own company dancers with dance students and youth dancers, each given the space to demonstrate the bold imagination and possibilities of dance as a means of human expression through physicality.

Credit is due to costume designer Emma Bailey, who has managed to fittingly dress so many and so diversely. Also to the sound and light team who made the building look and sound great and provided additional navigation from space to space through light. The logistics of the event are well-managed, supported by the team from the company and the Library working together to make the audience journey as smooth as possible. The only downside is that with the varieties of spaces, an audience that is mostly standing and a building that sometimes just has pillars in the way, the sightlines can sometimes be difficult to manage, especially when the dancers are doing low-level floorwork, but as the audience repositions itself for each piece this can be managed. You would be unlucky to miss everything.

Overall, a great event. It looks like Company Chameleon and it shows the Library and its team to commendable effect. And if it exposed some of the audience to dance for the first time, then great.

Runs until 25 November | Image: Contributed


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