Epilogues presents an old and a new work by James Cousins Company which together explore highly nuanced, introverted relationships performed by three couples. Using costumes, music and light to peel away the many layers of complexity in the act of getting close to someone, Cousins and company both surprise and stir us. Carrying messages which are neither optimistic nor pessimistic, tragic nor comedic communicated through an intricate web of affective physical languages, the pairings remain unresolved, lingering in the liminal spaces of being. This is what makes Epilogues fascinating.
In Between Us Is Me and The Secret of Having It All are recent and conjoined works that present two diametrically different protagonist couples. The first are a chilled-out pair (Rhys Dennis and Georges Hann), who morph around each other’s body surfaces, testing out their commitment. At first simply standing still and staring at each other, enacting the odd flicker of mirrored gesture, their soulful searching changes dramatically with a lighting change into sequences of rolling and tumbling. Here they embody an active, playful energy like that of dolphins but then suddenly separate. Music composed by Matt Davies is powerfully ambient, sometimes calm and reflective, at other times portentous and threatening. Vigorous in its frequent and startling changes the lighting design by Jackie Shemesh frames the restless unease of the choreography. At one point a corridor of light which appears alternately on floor and cyclorama traps Dennis as he hurls himself along and through it in a frenzied, violent solo; symptomatic of the sentiments he can’t express when he’s with Hann. Shades of mental illness and instability reverberate from Dennis’s tense flailings.
I always wonder how Cousins with his nonchalantly fluid, released style, his ability to lead us into dream states can also shock us with paranoid and aggressive choreography. He catches me out every time.
Even more complex connections are explored in Jemima Brown and George Frampton’s deconstructed tap show rehearsal – The Secret of Having It All. In an abrupt black-out and illuminated by an unforgiving, harsh light these competitive women replace the two men, stressed out by their gruelling training: rigorous tap steps, snippets of jigs, a glimmer of Fosse and athletic contemporary executed with hectic pace and giddy changes of direction. Their relentless drill of punishing technique fuelled by the pressure to ‘put on the show’ is exhausting to watch but blimey, they are exceptional performers. They drive each other on without respite not wanting to be outdone by the other, divided by ambition and the fear of failure, never making contact. What a pair of women (inspite of their hideous rehearsal tights and crop tops) with their range of movement, their fierce articulation of multi-dimensional, technical skill and their stamina! At last with the random arrival of their costumes dropped from above, they finally stop to get dressed.
In a final episode, both couples reappear in another story – this time one which is gooey and sentimental: the men downstage twist and turn entangled while the women upstage, rolling each other adeptly into clothing scattered horizontally across the space. My intrigue in these couples begins to fade in this over-lengthy, inconclusive ending but the work as a whole suggests the limits of Cousins’ imagination as infinite.
Cousins’ signature piece, Within Her eyes is another haunting duet about an ambiguous relationship. For an entire seventeen minutes, Chihiro Kawasaki levitates above the floor without once touching the ground. We soon see that she is supported by Rhys Dennis but it is a remarkable feat of strength and agility on both their parts. Kawasaki uses every part of his body as a kind of launching pad from which she attempts to take off into space. She sits astride his shoulders, his arms or legs; she wraps herself horizontally and vertically across his torso; she kneels on his shins or thighs and from each position stretches away from him. While impressive on a physical and technical level, the emotional territory of the duet is murky and intense, prompting multiple questions: is she trying to escape from him? Does he hold her back? Are they both mutually dependent on each other, or is she unable to exist without his support? Is she in control as she reaches up into the ether? While there is a striving for something else, a continual pulling apart so that they can never be one, they blend together in brief moments of tenderness. It’s both touching and troubling.
As I sit amongst a crowd of young dance students, who must certainly have studied Within Her Eyes for GCSE dance I wonder what they see through their eyes. Is this kind of fraught relationship familiar to them. Does it make them frightened of forming close attachments. How do younger generations deal with the uncertainty and unhappiness that is all around us. This ability to provoke such deep reflections on human interaction and articulate is so strongly through the body in motion is why James Cousins astonishes.