ROH2 New Dance Commissions
Sarah Dowling: Remote
Laïla Diallo: Hold Everything Dear
Freddie Opoku-Addaie: Absent Made Present
London, Royal Opera House, Linbury Studio Theatre
29 March 2012
Never before has the Royal Opera House seemed so much like The Place (and I mean that in a very good way). The first people encountered when walking through the Linbury Studio Theatre bar were a trio of staff from The Place (the home of the London Contemporary Dance School, Resolution and Richard Alston Dance Company amongst much else) and the three choreographers being showcased through these new commissions (Sarah Dowling, Laïla Diallo and Freddie Opoku-Addaie), together with many of the dancers they used, are much more familiar in the settings of that other dance place. Oddly enough, I came to this show in preference to going to the student show at The Place and, in a sense, although these are seasoned, professional choreographers there was an air of this being another end-of-term show, presenting the work of this year’s graduates. And perhaps it felt this way because it was the culmination of their two-year stints as ROH2 Choreographic Associates. Mayuri Boonham and Alexander Whitley have just been announced as the newest recruits to this elite finishing school.
Each of these three works was crafted with a significant attention to strong production values and each was a concept that grew from a simple idea: the stultifying impact of TV in Dowling’s Remote; images of migration and the strength of self in dislocated circumstances in Diallo’s Hold Everything Dear; and memories of Ghanaian craftspeople from Freddie Opoku-Addaie’s childhood in Absent Made Present. Each contained exciting flashes of choreography with dance sequences that were often extreme in their physicality. They conveyed a strong sense of purpose and theme, with excellent lighting and a fascinating use of props. The idea of people growing into a dependency with their televisions, like snails attached to their shells, was a powerful image in Remote; the lighting and spatial command with the orchestra slowly becoming visible behind a black screen was especially strong in Diallo’s work; and the remarkable structural complexities spun out of hanging ropes weighted by hand-fashioned lumps of clay was the conceptual core of Absent Made Present. However, it must also be said that, to a greater or lesser extent, none of the three works entirely lived up to the sum of these parts. All had periods of drag, over-killing the concept by cramming in too much detail and each piece could be notably improved by an edit that fills out the concept with more dance. Diallo’s commission felt the closest to being complete.
A major benefit comes from having cast well and it was a privilege to see some of the finest freelance performers in the world of contemporary dance, and finding some new names to add to that list (Elisa Erävalo and Maria Olga Palliani in the crafty Ghanaian piece). Dowling’s unpleasant futuristic TV-centred world was greatly enhanced by the outstanding trio of Kath Duggan, Elisabetta D’Aloia and Jake Ingram-Dodd, with a remarkably physical duet between the latter pair; the loose-limbed, statuesque Diallo and Seke Chimutengwende brightened up the gloom of Hold Everything Dear, in which Theo Clinkard melted stone with his liquid lava movement. Chimutengwende also becomes the latest addition to a growing list of dancers who can hold a tune, singing an excellent a Capella version of I Get Along Without You Very Well.
For those of us of a certain age, there were flashing moments of all our yesteryears with such visual and aural imagery of Max Fleischer cartoons and an old-fashioned test card in ‘Remote’ and the extended electric guitar riff from the Carpenters’ Goodbye to Love in Hold Everything Dear. Moments of fancy that tickled specific memories. These were jumbled amongst many outstanding moments and each choreographer has little difficulty in proving their credentials for creating fascinating conceptual dance theatre. They all get a grade A pass from the ROH2 finishing school; with a little more attention to the fine detail, tightening up the concept and allowing more dance to flow, it would have been a full house of A stars.