Russell Maliphant Company
Conceal | Reveal: Spiral Pass, Broken Fall, «both, and», Piece No. 43
London, Sadler’s Wells
26 November 2015
Gallery of pictures by Foteini Christofilopoulou
Something new, something from the past and something not seen in London before: that was Russell Maliphant’s formula in putting together this programme of his choreography for Sadler’s Wells. The new elements are a solo for Dana Fouras «both, and », and a quintet entitled Piece No. 43, as this is the 43rd work created with lighting designer Michael Hulls as part of their 20 years of collaboration. The revival is Broken Fall, made originally for Sylvie Guillem and the BalletBoyz, an iconic piece not seen in this country for a number of years. The London debut is Spiral Pass, presented here by dancers of Bayerisches Staatsballett of Munich for whom Maliphant created the work in 2014.
It sounds like a great combination, and had some stunning moments, but turned out to be an oddly uneven experience in the theatre, not assisted by a reversal of the running order in the published programme.
The evening began with the dancers of Bayerisches Staatsballett in Spiral Pass, listed in the programme as the closing item. If we had seen this as the closer we would all be headed home happy as it had a decided wow factor and some charismatic and powerful dancers in Lucia Lacarra and Marlon Dino. After an interval this was followed by Broken Fall, and then by the two new works. What this meant in practice was that the earlier elements in the programme showed us much more dynamism and interaction between performers, but the later half became more static and introverted and the sense of energy drained away. Scheduling the pieces differently might produce a more buoyant effect.
The revival of Broken Fall, created originally in 2003, is here danced by Adam Kirkham, Nathan Young and Yu-Hsien Wu. It comes up well on new and different bodies. The men are well matched for height, though Wu is more petite than Guillem. Nevertheless as she enters, interrupting the two men, she exudes a determination to stake a place of her own. The work begins with slow testing out of balances against each other. As the tempo increases so does the risk level. The work still has a sense of thrill and danger. One man crouches. The woman stands on his back and leans, neck supported by the other man, as he turns her in a circle like a deconstruction of a classical promenade. One man throws her quite casually spinning backwards over his head into the other’s waiting arms. The lifts get ever higher.
If the drops from standing on shoulders almost to the floor don’t have the last ounce of drama that Guillem could extract from them, they are still very striking. Is it that Broken Fall itself has pushed the boundaries of what we can expect that now it doesn’t look quite so scary? The audience gave it a really rousing response.
Michael Hulls’s lighting is a key component of Maliphant’s solo for Dana Fouras, «both, and». She is lit by a golden light from behind which projects her giant shadow on the scrim. The lighting changes to multiply her images from a variety of perspectives. She remains (just) visible in outline through the scrim. Fouras does not travel about the stage much. The emphasis is on her winding, coiling arms and flashing hair. The central section of the piece is presented in almost complete darkness, with just occasional glimpses of Fouras at different places on stage. At the close we return to the giant shadow again. At sixteen minutes this felt too extended for the material.
This was followed by Piece No. 43. This was a cool and rather austere experience for five dancers, Dana Fouras, Nathan Young, Adam Kirkham, Yu-Hsien Wu and Carys Staton. Hulls provided five sharp squares of light into which the dancers slowly advanced. Here for what feels like a long time there was very little motion or interaction between the performers, just different poses picked out sharply by the light. The work seemed internalised by the performers, not really performed or presented to the audience.
The costumes by Stevie Stewart (another regular collaborator) were in shades of grey with elements of drapery attached. At times these caught the light in an interesting way, but could look unflattering. The work progressed into disparate episodes that did not cohere. There was a duet for two men while the women formed a sculptural group in the background, and after what felt like a false ending, a fierce solo for Wu. The actual ending reverted back to the confines of the light boxes. It was a muted point to end the programme on. Piece No. 43 felt longer than the stated thirty minutes running time.
Mukul is the composer for both the new works and for Spiral Pass. For the most part this seems a highly effective collaboration as he finds a rich variety of electronic textures to support the movement. The deep growls in the music for Spiral Pass were played at sufficient volume to register in your ribcage. The soundtrack for Piece no 43 sometimes suggested a radio station suffering from interference, picking up random stray bits of speech. However in that work the shift into Beethoven was jarring and at odds with the rest.
Spiral Pass (sadly no pictures available – Ed) would have been a more upbeat closer for the evening. It uses eleven dancers and the additional resources give Maliphant more opportunities to play with various combinations of dancers, not just the solos, twos or threes that we see elsewhere but larger combinations that can offer greater contrast and variety. A duet for Lucia Lacarra and Marlon Dino which opens the work shows off his abilities as a steadfast partner. Even more striking is the partnering of Lacarra by four men who hoist her high aloft in a variety of poses where she barely seems to touch the ground. She serenely “walks” on their outstretched hands in the air. Her composure and charisma is remarkable, a commanding presence. High in the air she lifts an arm to acknowledge us like a queen waving to her loyal subjects.
Spiral Pass seems an apt title as the work investigates all manner of turns and spins. The women are spun around their partners like ice dancers, their feet not grazing the floor. Perhaps because of its performers the work has a more balletic feel than the rest of the programme. You are aware how the womens’ feet are always pointed. Maliphant exploits contrasts between three women who advance towards us in a very upright stance with formal, classical arm movements while four men scurry along the floor on Hulls characteristic pathways of light. The men spend punishing time circling the stage on their knees. The structure of the work is tighter and easier to follow than for Piece No. 43 and it is danced for the audience, with the dancers looking us in the eye. It received a tumultuous response.
Overall this was a mixed evening. The latest pieces do not have the more immediate appeal of the earlier Broken Fall. However Spiral Pass was a success with the audience, received with great enthusiasm. It was good to have the chance to catch sight of dancers from a company that we see little of in the UK, and they made a terrific impression.