This third season of short works at the Coronet Theatre will be the last time that Dana Fouras performs as a dancer in the company formed by her husband, Russell Maliphant, in 1996. So the programme featuring just the two of them could be seen as a celebration of their partnership as dancers and dance-makers, as well as in life.
The Coronet Theatre in Notting Hill Gate, built in 1898 as an ornate theatre, became a cinema and then a derelict building until Anda Winters rescued it in 2014. She has restored it as a creative centre for performances of many different kinds, with a downstairs bar of extraordinary charm, its sloping floor a reminder of where the raked stalls once perched. Upstairs, the audience sits in the former balcony, the tiered rows of chairs (195 in all) embracing the stage. The space is so intimate that performers and spectators can hear each other breathe, though there’s plenty of room for modern theatre technology.
In this magical programme of two duets and two short films, Maliphant is investigating weightlessness – not so much defying gravity as conjuring its non-existence. In the first duet, The Space Between, he and Fouras seem ethereal beings, glowing phosphorescent in Panagiotis Tomaras’s dappled video projections. They start as incorporeal shapes, gradually unfolding as Fouras’s watery soundscape washes over them.
She starts to revolve on her own, spinning serenely as the lighting spills over her. The spins suggest Asian dance, while her curling arms carve the dark space above her like a flamenco bailarina. Then it’s Maliphant’s turn to be picked out in animated patterns resembling sea foam as he rolls and rotates, crouching in deep pliés. They are separated by squares of light, strobed by flashes as they spiral side by side. Accompanied by electronic pounding, the dazzling effect is mesmerising, disorienting.
Just before the end of the 30-minute duet, they finally link together, taking each other’s arms and weight, becoming more substantial now that the space between them has closed. Fouras is the yielding one, suspended across and over Maliphant’s body as they continue to revolve in the darkness.
Two brief films follow after an interval, both made in collaboration with Julian Broad. In one, Fouras appears as a Loie Fuller incarnation, swirling draperies as she spins to a Rachmaninov prelude against a draped backcloth. It’s the only occasion in which her feet on tiptoe are visibly the motor of her rotations. Her long hair and dress (by Stevie Stewart, as are all the costumes) flare around her in layers, making her resemble an extravagant Rorschach inkblot. Maliphant is more plainly clothed in the second film, in which he circles horizontal to the ground, supported by a bungee cord under his shoulders. It enables him to accomplish the boneless low-level gyrations in which he specialises, while remaining weightless.
The films are essentially fillers before the final 12-minute Duet they originally performed in 2018 at the Coronet. The lighting, no longer camouflaging their bodies, is by Michael Hulls, Maliphants’ frequent collaborator. Fouras contributes the sound – a hiss of static and the thump of heartbeats introducing a very early recording of Enrico Caruso singing Una Furtiva Lagrima (a Furtive Tear). Donizetti’s poignant aria rejoicing in the assurance of love haunts the journey Fouras and Maliphant take together, so in tune with each other.
The courteous etiquette of their shared ballet backgrounds is evident, as is their mutual trust in negotiating lifts. Duet is a partnership of complementary equals, a portrait of a marriage invested with emotional gravitas.