The 4th floor studio at Rich Mix is just the kind of space in which you would want to see Luke Brown Dance’s For You I Long the Longest. It’s an intense and intimate work that needs to be experienced in a small, contained theatre. Themes around the complexities of love and domestic violence shaped through moving autobiographical events link the two pieces which form the programme: the unsettling Second Self and the fantastical Princess. Both deliver powerful messages through subtle, fleeting and highly imaginative means. Dream-like imagery and lyrical choreography convey a troubling landscape of ambiguous love, suggested but never made manifest.
Second Self begins in a smoke filled, red lit haze. A dark, brooding atmosphere is created by Edward Saunders’ simple yet striking lighting design. A woman, Marta Masiero lies on the floor motionless and is joined by Luke Brown. They perform a duet in which they seem to mould their bodies together through intricate contact work and Brown manipulates her body so that it covers his. Masiero remains corpse like, unresponsive, facing upwards. There’s an underlying eeriness about their relationship – it seems one-sided, possibly abusive although eventually she responds to him with more affection. There’s something needy and difficult about their attachment which could be that of a parent and child or between two lovers.
With a lighting change the other two dancers, Kiraly Saint-Claire and Eileih Muir join them and the mood lightens as the four perform playful routines of lifts and athletic balances. They are watchful of each other, sometimes joyous, smiling and carefree, but also sad and insular suggesting the complex dynamics of a family or the painful extremes of love. Possession and adoration is played out through their interaction and as they repeatedly pose together for the family photo, Brown looks increasingly more bereft. It’s a work which hints at meaning through a focus on abstract movement and minimal staging rather than the more theatrical Princess but it exposes some adventurous technical expertise and complements the second piece effectively through its differences.
Princess interweaves an abundance of dance theatre ingredients: singing by the dancers, story-telling, evocative music and eclectic choreography performed by the three performers. The stage is transformed into a boxing ring with a hanging tree of lights outside of it. Worlds of fantasy and dreams are conveyed through the design of the space and the array of magical objects and garments: a unicorn’s mask with a silver sparkly horn; a glamorous wedding gown, a medieval red dress. Props, costumes and masks lie scattered around the ring and it’s an intriguing scene of imaginative crafting, designed by Brown himself. Recorded music – Donna Summers’s heady club anthem, I feel Love – establishes the theme of desire but it is the humming of Muir and Masiero as they gather around the hanging lights to look for butterflies that is particularly mesmerizing and lingers in the mind. Once again Saunders’ lighting is wonderfully inventive, casting the stage in shadows and mystery.
The narrative which introduces each round of this sad story is spoken by Masiero with her Tinkerbell chimes. She describes the happy beginnings of a couple, Saint Claire and Muir, which gradually turn sour through his controlling, bullying gestures. The disparity of their heights – Saint Clair towers above Muir – works effectively to evoke abusive power-play in their duo, his rough handling of her and her inability to respond. Meanwhile a flood of fanciful images distract from the harder expressions of violence. The crestfallen look of both man and woman, the numbed physicality of Muir as she freezes limp and lifeless, in denial of what is happening, brilliantly reveals communication shut down. Later during a surreal, metaphorical dreamscape in which the couple are portrayed as fairy-tale characters, Saint Claire disguised in a stag’s mask with golden sparkly horns, creeps into the boxing ring and steals the beloved butterfly from the princess. Again she shrinks from him, crumpling in despair, her fantasy escape route gone.
The delicate footwork of Muir as she gingerly dances across the stage covered in fragile eggs is another provocatively symbolic moment that speaks to everyone who has been in a challenging relationship.
Brown taps into our imaginations with physical and visual artistry. The performance at Rich Mix marks the end of this new company’s first full length tour and both choreographer and his dancers should be proud of themselves. For You I Long… is a nuanced show that covers a sophisticated range of emotions and methods through which to express them. His uncertain world of shadows, sun and rain does linger on and promises great things for his work in the future.