Things That Tie Together

Many forms of genius are better than one. There is athletic genius, the kind demonstrated from professional dancers and athletes. In the case of, for example, the Super Bowl, that genius has no meaning without strategy, what I suppose I might call organizational genius. The coach and the whole structure of decision-making that leads to great plays and winning scores by the athletes are quite similar to the dancer and their choreographer. In fact, good football is like choreography applied to chance operations, a 20th Century artistic device, because despite the variables they play with, the end result is a dance.

You know though, neither the NFL nor the Super Bowl would be popular if they lacked design genius. Those jerseys and those logos speak to the hearts and guts of citizens across the nation, but also, people tune in to watch high-budget advertising and a tremendous half-time show. These also would be nothing without design, and absolutely nothing without sound. So there is also sonic or musical genius. These four things, set aside from other areas of brilliance, I would suggest make up the qualities of Still Current, a dance presentation by Russell Maliphant Company, named after the organizational genius, coach, Director and Choreographer.

Still Current is five mind-bending illusions, strung together by a series of foot-tapping, anxious, and solemn contemporary ballet vignettes. In my view, not a single aspect of the work comes across with magnificence, but taken together, it snaps like a puzzle to form a cohesive image and emotional response.

Perhaps the most important fusion is light and movement. Especially in Two, a solo featuring Carys Staton dancing to music by Andy Cowton, under the lighting design of Michael Hulls, did such a fusion really dazzle viewers. It is so simple, just square light at varying degrees of intensity, fading and brightening along to musical cues; taken together I suspect determine the dance cues for Staton to follow. The dance is very musical; she keeps to a roughly five by five foot area under said lights, and she just wails. She really brings grace to frenetic, industrial music as she swings, spins, and stretches out at super-sonic speeds—or at least it appears that way under a lighting arrangement that leaves LSD-like trails in her wake. The light only shines for select areas and she moves in and out of those, leaving temporary shapes, like brush strokes of impressions of a dance. It is simplicity, a demonstration of light and movement.

Afterlight presents quite a different fusion of visual design, sonic and athletic expression. The greatest similarity is the solo dancer, but it departs from there. Thomasin Gulgec enjoys moving about the wide girth of the stage to the much more solemn piano works of Erik Satie, one of my favorites, and predictably, The Gymnopedies. Here is where the lighting animation of Jan Urbanowski ties things together. Set to an underwater sort of texture, the dancer explores the space between the musical notes of Satie, whose oceanic ambience works quite well with the vibe going on there. If you have seats way back, this is your advantage. At times, there is a displacement effect following the dancer’s every step. Maybe in the future, balcony seats will be at a premium, because the new norm for lighting will be aerial projection.

Dickson Mbi during solo section of "Still"
Dickson Mbi during solo section of “Still”. Photo by Hugh Glendinning

Carys Staton performs three of the five pieces, appearing with two of the four male dancers that comprise the whole roster. I enjoyed Still, the duet between she and Dickson Mbi quite a lot. Their relationship was tense and disconnected, but perhaps more loving than met the eye. She appeared like a Goddess and was dressed most elegantly in this one. Mbi has his own struggles going on, to which he shows a great deal of grace under fire. Gulgec’s lighting animation is tied rhythmically to the music, which is thumping, noisy, and dynamic. It is basically lines. Lots of lines streaming their way across the stage, to no apparent end.

The finale and title piece, Still Current features Staton with Marlon Dino . They work out something romantic with virtuosic, but sort of desperate and anxious. This again features the lighting animation of Gulgec. It feels like choreography and lighting both worked a stronger narrative and landscape in to the sound. Musically, this became a bit abrasive and intense, again industrial with driving rhythm. I wonder if I was alone in thinking about Terminator style drone wars, this techno-dystopia where you can trust no one, and so their love, their teamwork is challenged. Because they move interdependently, Staton carried and flying about, clinging to him and loving it, yet occasionally questioning one another’s trustworthiness.

What characterizes this presentation of Russell Maliphant is an industrial, foot-tapping music collection with a unique display of lighting techniques that come across like a study of technical ideas applied to contemporary ballet, performed by very athletic, young and beautiful dancers. For something with a long list of collaborators presenting a series of shorts, it ties together pretty well in to a cohesive full-length program. Perhaps not with narrative, moral notions or deep emotional triggers even, but as a fantastic technical exercise to convey those things in new ways. Like anything experimental, it weighs in technically but doesn’t penetrate the core of Being.

Decide for yourself. It runs this weekend at Lincoln Hall. For more information, follow the links below.

Sean Ongley

By Sean Ongley

Co-Founder of THRU Media. A background in non-profit, music, and radio preceded my ambitions here. Now, I aspire to produce new media and publish independent journalism at this site and beyond.

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