It is rare to find a dance company that articulates a new movement methodology but that is exactly what the Montreal-based RUBBERBANDance Group have developed over the past ten years. This rare excursion to the UK showcases the Group’s latest work, entitled Gravity of Center, which premiered in 2011. Five dancers are each on stage for most of the 70 minutes’ duration of this piece, although the action frequently breaks into solos, duos and trios; and they have little stage adornment for added effect other than some smoke and a single flying lantern that appears just once at either end of the work.
The five performers (three men, two women) are dressed ordinarily, managing to wear between them an assortment of maroon trousers, leggings, grey baggy shorts, lacy tights and jogging bottoms. There is an unflagging, fluid interaction between them, as if they may be a posse of adventurers caught in the forest, or perhaps an urban gang escaping from a West Side rumble. Something else appears to be out there as they stretch and peer all around like a mob of inquisitive meerkats. They often move as a single organism, rolling over one another’s backs, or sliding through each other’s arms; but this harmony is regularly punctuated by flashes of individuality, channelled through the same flowing linearity of athletic movement, with twisting, rolling horizontal body jumps, handstands, floor-based work and much else besides, all interlinked into what seems like one long sequence. Many different types of movement are strung together as seamlessly as walking.
There are relationships at work within the group. Tenderness links doughty, maroon-trousered Anne Plamondon with Daniel Mayo, a blonde “College Quarterback” type, but also perhaps the most vulnerable of the guys. Elon Höglund, a heavily tattooed alpha male, has a wide-eyed mania that suggests he might be the man to avoid, although the girl in shorts, lacy tights and a pineapple hairdo, Emmanuelle LêPhan, looks as if she can match him in both the quantum of tattoos and the scale of her attitude. And then there is the cool control of the leader, Victor Quijada, the man whose street nickname provides the moniker for the dance group that he has led as both choreographer and director for the past decade.
These may be members of the same itinerant gang but for much of the time it seems they are contesting a volatile game of freestyle, tag-team, all-in wrestling as the quintet throw themselves around, aim kicks at heads, heavy slaps to chest, toss in a few ferocious “Glasgow kisses” and grapple colleagues to the ground. At one early point in the proceedings, one of the men is caught – just in the nick of time – before flying out into a concerned front row of the audience. Theirs is a powerful mix of dynamic, stamina-exhausting, often adversarial movement, comprising accents derived from diverse dance styles, mixed with circus and gymnastic skills; not a fusion as such, but layers of interwoven contemporary, b-boy, hip-hop and balletic moves. The undulating contracting and expansion of the group and the bodies within it seemed perhaps to hold another relevance to the RUBBERBAND name.
Praise is due to the lighting designs of Yan Lee Chan for subtly defining this mysterious space. The only other significant accompanying feature to the unrelenting dance is an eclectic score that seems a synergistic aural representation of the work, composed by a man with two names (or perhaps even two-and-a-half, depending on how you count them), Jasper Gahunia or DJ Lil’Jaz, eljay II. The sinister forebodings of heavy electronic beats contrast with the sensitivity of minimalist piano notes; and in tandem, often the dance turns from angry confrontation to delicate duets and sensual solos, the best of which came in a masterclass of his unique style from Quijada followed by a soulful, melting dance at the close by his long-term associate, Plamondon.
Maintaining an audience’s concentration for over an hour with such a full-on pace, just a handful of players and no discernible narrative is no easy ask; but this tightly integrated group managed to hold my attention without difficulty. I marvelled at their collective ability to remember so much choreography, particularly where the movement required a significant inter-operable, split-second dependency from one dancer to another. There is nothing unusual or individual about a rubber band. They usually come in packs of hundreds. But the RUBBERBANDance Group and their pioneering methodology of dance is certainly a one-off phenomenon.