Russell Maliphant has built his choreographic career on an intense examination of human movement, scrupulous and forensic. In his latest piece, Silent Lines, his aim is to consider the internal workings of the body, the lines of the blood vessels and nerves that govern our existence. As ever, movement is quite literally under the spotlight, though here the lighting is not by Michael Hulls, Maliphant’s usual collaborator but by Maliphant himself with animated video projection from video and light artist Panagiotis Tomaras. Some of these projections are stunning, dissolving the dancers’ bodies into shifting, flickering blue and silver phantasms, like eruptions of liquid mercury. There are moments of astonishing beauty and much of the hour-long work is hypnotic. It’s another remarkable achievement from Maliphant, conjuring poetry out of a bare stage, light and movement.
Five dancers initially appear out of the gloom in a sculptural grouping. The projections play on their bodies. The light is dappled and aqueous, like sun playing on shallow water. Their bodies dissolve into it, becoming larger ripples in the whole. We are sixty percent water after all. They are both human and otherworldly creatures at the same time. Their bodies might be long elegant plumes of kelp, drifting in the currents of the sea. They interlace, and support each other to the slow, sustained notes of the soundtrack. It is exquistely lovely to look at as they luxuriously melt and reform, drift together and split apart, all the time glistening in blue and silver light.
In the next section, the projections shift to lines which might be the veins on leaves, or the veins of the human body writ large. The increasingly loud soundtrack becomes more portentous and provides a pulsing heartbeat which could be the dancers’ blood coursing through their arteries. The energy levels increase. It’s like watching a time lapse film of the forces of spring advancing. Maliphant draws on an eclectic range of dance influences with anything from martial arts, contemporary and t’ai chi but makes it all cohere into a controlled, deliberate, satisfying whole.
The five dancers – Alethia Antonia, Edd Arnold, Grace Jabbari, Moronfoluwa Odimayo, and Will Thompson – may appear initially only in outline, but over the hour long work the vocabulary for each gradually becomes more distinctive and their individual voices become clearer.
There are a series of solos, duos and trios where the sustained and concentrated examination of human movement continues. How do spines bend backwards, how do arms ripple, how does the body roll forwards across the floor, how do two bodies share and transfer weight, all of these are investigated. Dancers are trapped under tight pools of light, which appear both to constrain their movement and pull it into tight focus. The piece flows seamlessly with no section outstaying its welcome.
Sometimes the projections spread to the floor where the dancer’s movement triggers concentric circles of light with dark radiating out from them as if the dancer’s own spiralling moves were creating waves in the ether. (These floor projections may be much more effective seen from higher in the theatre). Grace Jabbari has a particularly elegant and liquid solo, where her arms whirl so fast that the eye only registers a blur. One of the men’s solos relates much more to the floor where he spins comfortably on his back.
All the elements of the production are carefully conceived, and precision engineered to fit together. The costumes are by Stevie Stewart of Bodymap. Each dancer is dressed slightly differently, but the loose white tops in different styles all pick up the brightness of the projections well, and the various baggy wide trousers allow maximum movement. The Silent Lines soundtrack was put together by Dana Fouras and offers seamless flowing support for the movement. It’s a wide-ranging mix of her own creations (available to purchase) with some tunes by Benjamin Godard and Chopin sprinkled in.
The gorgeous underwater-style projections return at the conclusion of the work, with the sense of full circle having been reached, and the dancers again become ravishing, magical silvery creatures. Silent Lines was massively popular with the Sadler’s audience, and it’s a pity that this appears to be the end of its scheduled tour. We need to see this beautiful work again.