Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
Moving Dance Forward is a new joint initiative by MDI and Dance Manchester, bringing together The Lowry, Unity Theatre, Contact and the University of Salford to create a new North West Associate Dance Artist Scheme. This showcase presents new and work-in-progress work by local dance artists. The North West has far more independent dance artists and small-scale companies than one might gather from looking at the schedules of local venues programming dance, although the area is short of larger or national-scale companies, unlike Birmingham or Leeds, for example.
The showcase opens softly with an ‘interventional’ performance in the bar before, during and after the theatre events.A Song For You, by choreographer Lisi Perry, marries the sweet clear voice and guitar of songwriter Beth Allen with dancers Genevieve Say, Rebecca Thomas and Lauren Tucker, who utilise the architecture of a tiny corner of the bar to create an evocative street scene of be-hatted scallywags up to mischief, and other songs. This is a developing project.
The Age of Ledgerby dancer and choreographer Joseph Lau takes place in the main theatre space and is a fully realised dystopian physical theatre work exploring the psychological and social impact of money and economics and the disproportionate rôle they have in ‘governing our world and disempowering the individual’. Strikingly staged (and nicely lit) with a set of towering cardboard boxes and brown paper-wrapped tables, Lau brings impressive range, physical commitment and enormous personal charisma to this wide-ranging examination of the futility and optimistic hopelessness of trying to function as a vital and yet individually irrelevant pawn in a financial machine that makes little sense and clearly doesn’t function well, for all its high-level economic theory and claims of fiscal and social responsibly. Lau, long based in the north-west, brings elements from his Australian-Chinese heritage to create an expansive and considered global dimension to the work, yet manages to keep his lens focused on the personal impact of being little more than a component – always potentially a superfluous one, an obstacle to efficiency – within a faceless and unwieldy machine. This is an effective, audacious, fully realised piece of dance theatre that pulls a range of physical and emotional punches with its considered and well-chosen use of text and music.
Femmeis a new dance film commissioned by Making Art (Unity Theatre) and MDI, choreographed and performed by Taciturn and filmed by Percy Dean. This is beautifully shot and appealingly set toFrancoisby La Femme. But is there a clear distinction between dance film and a pop video? Is Sia’sElastic Hearta dance film? An enjoyable interlude, however.
Never the Foxesis an early-stage research showing of new work by Bridget Fiske, who has been working with Joseph Lau, Stephanie Pan and Navala Chaudhari to explore ideas of ‘origin, orientation, instinct, nature and death’ – which has drawn focus from the survival and hunting instincts of foxes. For an early showing this is impressive stuff. A mix of studio film and live performance by Fiske and Lau and Pan – who also sings, plays and creates gloriously noisy soundscapes with feedback, loops and a floating drum –Never the Foxespromises much. Already the theatrical staging is striking and the movement and physical interplay between Fiske and Lau is intriguing and full of interconnectivity and dynamic potential, with flashes of animalism.
Finally,Space Is Only Noise, a live sound installation designed and created by Christopher Owen, which utilises sound equipment to generate and reveal the invisible sound waves and vibration that surrounds us. Using microphones and amplifiers, Owen builds a wall of looping sound from a prone guitar activated by an Ebow, a radio, his own voice and simple toys that sing when twirled. To this he adds some physical movement that may or not feed in to the glorious, ethereal electric noise he has set in motion. Intriguing and somewhat impressive, this work is slightly oddly placed as the final piece in a show that opened with the fully-realised, theatricalThe Art of Ledger.
Moving Dance Forward is a welcome addition to the North West dance scene. The only thing is, it not only showcases the diverse range of talent working in the area, it also highlights the undernourished nature of the local dance ecology after years of funding cuts, where these artists and their work are sadly underrepresented in local venues, and relatively invisible beneath an ocean of what is loosely regarded as commercial and ‘popular entertainment’. The good thing is the momentum being generated to challenge this arguably depressing paradigm.