Russell Maliphant Company
Still Current: Still, Traces, Afterlight, Two, Still Current
London, Sadler’s Wells
5 June 2014
Gallery of pictures by Foteini Christofilopoulou
Russell Maliphant’s Still Current programme at Sadler’s Wells includes three newly created works from him alongside two of his established and successful solo pieces. Maliphant’s Two has been something of a calling card for Sylvie Guillem, and his Afterlight (Part 1) has also toured extensively. Maliphant’s latest offerings hence compete against some of his own greatest hits. Mostly the new stand up very well, with Michael Hulls’ mesmerising lighting as ever an integral part of the experience. There is a sense of confidence about the company, an impression that Maliphant has here found collaborators, composers and performers who fit his needs perfectly and enable him to realise his particular vision. It’s a short programme but packed with memorable images, and brilliantly executed.
Maliphant’s movement is drawn from a variety of sources, with elements of contemporary dance, popping, martial arts, and even traces of his classical training blended together. The company’s resources are modest but this becomes a virtue. There are just four performers. There is no set. The lighting design is paramount in constructing the environment for the dancers. The pieces tend to be short, not outstaying their welcome. Often they are slow to build. Movement is repeated and examined scrupulously from different angles. Sometimes the works accelerate to reach a frantic finale. The music is recorded and loud enough to feel the floor vibrate.
Maliphant himself dances in two of the new works. His performance here makes a great case for the older dancer. His strength and speed seem undiminished at 52, and his forceful and enigmatic stage presence is powerful.
The programme opens with the new work, Still. Dickson Mbi appears alone, trapped, caught under the bars of light supplied by Michael Hulls. Armand Amar provides an intensely percussive accompaniment. Mbi’s movement is at first slow and contained. The lighting flashes on and off, the bars move, illuminating his body at different angles to give a sense of movement even when he is standing still. Are these prison bars? Is he trapped there? Later the bars of light push forward or back as if propelling the performers on some conveyor belt, or marking the rolling passage of time.
Dickson Mbi’s dance background in popping is exploited here. He is a huge presence, carved from a solid block of teak. Later he is joined by the slender figure of Carys Staton, more like a lithe silver birch moved by the wind. It’s always said that the same moves never look the same when performed by different dancers and this is certainly illustrated here. The two negotiate spaces around each other getting closer and closer at increasing speed but never actually meet.
Traces is for three men, to music from Andy Cowton, a long-time Maliphant collaborator. This isn’t the strongest of the new works, but still shows us just how the mood and dynamic of a piece can suddenly shift through the simplest means. Thomasin Gulgec enters carrying a stick which he whirls and stabs with in an almost whimsical way. The tone changes completely when Maliphant enters, also wielding a stick. There’s a definite sense of confrontation, aided by Maliphant’s shaven head and intense stare. You wouldn’t like to meet him down a dark alley. He wields his stick as a weapon. The piece has a strong martial arts flavour and the whirling of the sticks registers as blurs in Michael Hulls’ lighting. The dynamic changes again with the entrance of Mbi in a red T-shirt like Maliphant’s. Now we have two against one. This might at any moment turn nasty but in fact becomes more collaborative.
Still Current was the final item on the programme, a duet for Maliphant and Carys Staton. It was only in this that we saw extended sections of partnering. Maliphant may be limbering up here for his performances this summer with Sylvie Guillem in their programme Push at the Coliseum.
The soundtrack here is from Mukul, very loud and full of violence. At times there was a suggestion in it of machine gun fire or helicopter noise. The floor was painted with a light effect that might have been camouflage. The movement in the initial section is subject to sudden blackouts. The effect is of snatched moments of intimacy during wartime. There was a reticent and affecting tenderness here, a quality not in ample supply in much contemporary dance, and to be treasured. Maliphant and Staton supported each other and propped each other up. She slipped over his shoulders and he wound her up and around him with no apparent effort.
The two older works on the programme got fine interpretations from performers new to me in these roles. Carys Staton was locked into the small square of light in Two; fingers flashing through the slabs of light become like fireflies. This was a strong and popular closer to the first half of the programme.
Afterlight was created in 2009, originally made for Sadler’s In the Spirit of Diaghilev programme, and based on the drawings, full of curves and whirls, made by Nijinsky when he had stopped dancing and was in an asylum. It isset to the spare tones of Satie. This was a great performance from Gulgec with extraordinary control and smoothness of execution. All the components here fit brilliantly together to give a sense of Nijinsky’s disordered mind. These are embodied in the extraordinary animation and lighting of boiling clouds beneath his feet. He leaps from fragment to fragment of these as his tenuous grasp on reality diminishes and they slowly drain away beneath him, to leave him penned in a shrinking net of light and then ultimately darkness.