A number of dance works this year have taken on the theme of the young’s struggles with depression and identity, but Falling Man is the most successful so far in encapsulating these in a visceral and unsettling theatrical event. It’s a joint creation by Dane Hurst (choreography) and Tom Rowland (film and music) and takes you right inside the head of someone who is struggling to cope.
Dane Hurst is the protagonist here, exploding onto the stage in a storming, frazzled solo, arms flung out as if falling or jumping off a building. Maybe this is the end of the story, or just a fantasy: the rest of the work could be the lead up to it. Hurst tries to move around the stage, but it’s as he has forgotten how to command his legs: he has to push them into position with his hands. Everyday actions take great effort, in a physical embodiment of traumatising depression.
His troubles take on a tangible form. While he sleeps, Jordan Ajadi rolls out from under the bed and leaps on him, grabbing him by the throat, as Hurst’s limbs thrash as if electrocuted. Ajadi is a new name to me but what an introduction: he is a powerful stage presence, lithe, threatening, eyes glittering with malign intent, come to claim his victim. But he exudes a magnetic attraction too, a lure towards oblivion. Their duet is terrific: Hurst becomes soft and floppy, manipulated, but he never quite gives in.
Oxana Panchenko is Hurst’s partner, an elegant presence, though seen from Hurst’s viewpoint. she seems initially distant and unreachable There’s more for her to do in the second part of the performance, where in a longer duet they take each other’s weight and she gently lifts up his slumped body. It’s difficult for her go get through to him, however hard she tries.
Tom Rowland’s films are projected on a large screen at the upper level of the Wilton’s stage, with most of the dancing at a lower level. Sometimes there are just very subliminal unsettling images that you can’t quite grasp, but still disturb. There are also longer bursts of imagery, at times chaotic or hallucinatory, overlaid with images of Hurst and Ajadi. It’s carefully organised so that film and live action don’t compete for your attention at any point but complement each other.
Tom Rowland also wrote the music/soundtrack, which featured some warm and tender live guest vocals from Apricity, appearing up in a corner of the Wilton’s balcony. It was an enterprising use of the space. The modest scale of the Wilton’s stage suits the piece, giving it a nightmarishly claustrophobic feel, and you are really up close and personal with the dancers.
It’s a remarkable performance of rare intensity and range from Hurst. At some points he is raging, carving up the space. But he is also unafraid to be weak, pliant, drained and frail. Yet the night terrors that haunt him haven’t quite dragged him down yet.
Falling Man is a powerful and unsettling work. It has been more than a year in the making from Hurst and Rowland. It’s a finely crafted piece, well-honed and thought through. That’s all the more remarkable given that its creation seems to have been the personal initiative of them both, with no funding credited in the programme. These performances at Wilton’s are its only currently scheduled dates and that’s a shame. Falling Man is a huge achievement, performed with intensity and charisma, and we really need to see it again in our theatres.