There is a mysterious exoticism in Scottish Dance Theatre’s delivery of work by two innovative choreographers (one hails from LA, the other from Norway) whose work is largely unknown in the UK. Their work is as different as chalk from cheese but both have made dance theatre that is fascinating and deeply absorbing.
Victor Quijada brings popping, capoeira and b-boy moves to meld seamlessly within the fabric of contemporary dance. Quijada may not be the first choreographer to create this mix of street and contemporary techniques but he has succeeded in establishing a fascinating and distinctive signature style. Second Coming is exactly what is says on the tin since Quijada made his first piece on SDT around a decade ago. This new piece builds from a deconstructive, non-performance opening that has the audience unsure whether this is theatre or actuality, wondering aloud whether they are watching a “show” or the genuine unravelling of a performance due to circumstances outside of the company’s control. I won’t spoil the point for those who may watch this later in the tour but suffice to say that Joan Clevillé’s attempt to create (and explain) a performance out of all the problems is effective and believable.
Second Coming is, in fact, several apparently unrelated sections loosely tied together with dialogue and rapidly-constructed staging and lighting, often played out in an interaction between the performers and their technical team. Two episodes of dance are excellent: the first in a battle for supremacy in three movement motifs between Clevillé, Jori Kerremans and Nicole Guarino which required split-second synchronisation by the performers onstage and the technical team up in the box, which they all pulled off brilliantly; and then in a final poetic and sensual duet (danced by Eve Ganneau and Lewis Wilkins) that succeeded in changing the mood completely. There will shortly be a “third coming” since Quijada’s own company, RUBBERBANDDance Group, will perform at the Soutbank Centre in May.
Winter Again bears such style and panache in a work streaked with shades of darkness and comedy, often occurring simultaneously. Performers, dressed in grotesque, off-white clothing, with centuries-old references (tightly laced corsetry and ruffled shirts) entered and exited through a curtain comprising strips of similar grubby-white material, apparently suggestive of a snow-covered Nordic landscape. This sense of desolate wasteland was enhanced by Schubert’s gloom-laden Winterreise song cycle and the need to hunt for survival, both in the conventional sense with the loud sound of gunshot followed by the appearance of various animal carcasses (realistic seagulls and a life-sized reindeer offset by a “glove puppet” rabbit). In a surreal zombiesque interlude, Natalie Trewinnard (her eyes heavily bandaged) searches the stage for a tin box that contains her eyeballs. Having found them, Trewinnard unwinds the bandage and slots them back into place but to no avail since she ends the work by shooting herself.
Jo Strømgren has created an intriguing world of eerie Norwegian fantasy, one of wild fairy tales and grotesque, ghostly humans who shoot anything that moves. Mixed into this macabre theatre (at times almost like puppetry) there are occasional flashes of vibrant, harmonious dance. The initial sense of wonder was just beginning to lag by the end, and I felt that I may have missed an important point to the proceedings, in the sense that I had been entertained by a long, tall story but had somehow failed to grasp the punch line. Put into perspective, however, this transitory sense of frustration didn’t detract from my appreciation of Strømgren’s peculiar brand of thought-provoking, grotesque, gothic, physical theatre with its side order of dance.
Fleur Darkin describes her company as an “international treasure” and this artistic director is not guilty of exaggeration. While I suspect that she is hallmarking the dancers with her praise, this programme brought us a pair of choreographic jewels that merit the same accolade.