Choreographer: Alexander Vantournhout
London’s longest running theatre festival opens this year with Not Standing’s Through the Grapevine, a tightly choreographed acrobatic dance between two men. Close and increasingly intertwined, it’s hard to see where one body begins and the other ends. Alexander Vantournhout and Axel Guérin are separate beings, but they seem to share the same body.
But Through the Grapevine begins with the two men measuring up against each other. One is taller and spreads his arms wider than the other. The other man tries to extend his torso in an effort to stretch his body to match the other’s dimensions. Are the two men potential lovers, spending their first date comparing bodies? Or two future competitors squaring off before a brawl? Perhaps neither: perhaps both.
The strength and agility of Vantournhout and Guérin is incredible and even in the most strenuous routines neither appears to be out of breath. Instead of puffing hard, the pair turns to the audience with impassive faces not quite not signalling as if they are above the punishing moves but as if the moves haven’t happened at all. They may be inseparable but they are certainly distinguishable in their mismatched khaki shorts. Guérin’s long hair, which is let loose from its ponytail at one point, contrasts with Vantournhout’s shorter hair. Guérin is especially cool whereas Vantournhout acts little more anxious in the relationship with his dance partner.
Their bodies fuse at one point and they form a human fulcrum that moves across the stage, a white bright floor set out like a running track. Their bodies swing and twist in a delicate but muscular balance. At times they look like mythical creatures; at others, conjoined twins. At one stage, their tussling bodies are projected in shadows on the back on The Place’s wall as if they are gods.
Most of Through the Grapevine is performed is silence, but their movements take on a different quality when Andrea Belfi’s music appears. They jump and swoop tirelessly to the jazzy-techno beat, and just a hint of malice appears in the partnership as one performer tries to trip up the other.
For 60 minutes these two men are never still and even as they represent emotions from jealousy to love, the pure trust between them as they catch and lift each other is remarkable. While these two men are verging on the superhuman, their story is familiar to us, mere mortals in comparison.
Runs until 18 January 2022
London International Mime Festival website here