The Three Sections
Streamed on 27 March 2021
Although the live streaming of this new work attracted an online audience of over 80 screens with viewers seated on sofas, chairs and beds in many homes around the UK and further afield, it was very much a product of Wales that we had all tuned in to see.
Liam Riddick is best-known as a former student of the London Contemporary Dance School who was, for eight years, a towering performer with Richard Alston Dance Company (Sir Richard’s was one of those 80+ screens in this virtual audience), garnering nominations for a National Dance Award in six consecutive years before eventually winning Best Male Dancer of 2017. Despite the strength of his London-based reputation, Riddick was born in South Wales and began his dance training at Coleg Gwent in Newport and so it seemed appropriate that his first major foray into choreography should be in association with Gwent-based Ffin Dance, led by Sue Lewis from the Beaufort Theatre in Ebbw Vale.
The pandemic meant that the company’s home theatre will have to wait its turn before hosting The Three Sections, which instead premiered on a triangle of Zoom screens, each showing a sparsely furnished wooden-floored room in one of the performers’ homes, variously displaying a tripartite “set” of a single bed, fireplace, potted plant, TV and a couple of wardrobes. I have a feeling that these rooms have never known it so tidy! Zoom is not the choreographers’ friend with reactions to music always being at the mercy of broadband speed and internet connections but when the music is by Steve Reich a convenient veil can be thrown over the aural structure such that variable counts are difficult to detect.
To choose Reich as a fledgling choreographer was a courageous decision by Riddick; to make the work remotely with three dancers in different places, all reliant on hearing this complex music simultaneously from one distant source could have been foolhardy. But, to Riddick’s great credit and one must suppose a huge amount of dedication from his dancers there is a remarkable seamlessness to the work. The mind boggles at the struggle to overcome the confusions of making duets with performers in separate locations: for example, what is the choreographer’s and dancers’ left and right when instructions are given and received on different screens?
Riddick’s choreography bears the influence of Alston in its rich mix of elegance, crispness and musicality (even allowing for these difficult circumstances) and he has managed to convey a sense of theatre despite the obvious drawbacks of his dancers being represented on three small, rectangular screens. His integration of the three performers is finely detailed in terms of their relation to each other and in their coordinated movement, including entrances and exits. The choreographic language is diverse in spite of the confined spaces and lightning-fast actions are punctuated by moments of stillness and reflection in a well-balanced work that is thoroughly absorbing.
Georgina Duerden-Turier, Catrin Lewis and Julian Lewis gave strong performances, somehow managing to transcend their lockdown isolation by resembling a group in their interactions, while each retained a powerful individual identity (I was particularly aware of the contrasting images of strength and vulnerability in the two women’s attitudes).
The quality of the work was diminished somewhat by reasons of space limitations and camera quality; the twin drawbacks of choreography by Zoom. The problems of dancing in a bedroom in front of a static camera meant that heads, arms and lower limbs were cut off whenever a dancer ventured into the foreground; and the quality of one of the cameras was so poor that the dancer was often just a blurred (and often headless) torso. The choreography and performances deserved better than the technical limitations allowed. Hopefully, that day will come when The Three Sections gets the stage premiere it merits.