Sat 31 May 2014
In Russell Maliphant’s world, light doesn’t only come and go. It surges, recedes, expands, dapples, sculpts, weaves, highlights, and obscures. The choreographer’s evening of work ‘Still Current’ opened on the Abbey stage on Thursday night, five individual pieces by the company, but all sharing a common thread in the quality of the movement, the urgency of the soundscape and the integral use of light.
Light designer Michael Hulls’ treatment of illumination in the work makes it something living, another presence on stage that moves with the performers, sometimes shaping, sometimes mirroring their gestures. Pounding, tribal drums open ‘Still’, the first piece of the evening. Dancer Dickson Mbi crouches, back to the audience, the rippling muscles of his torso barred with rippling blue light. His movement, circumscribed by a square of illumination, is assured and fluid, a startling exhibition of strength and grace. Dancer Carys Staton’s entry introduces a more delicate type of strength, her slighter frame and lighter movement a counterpoint to Mbi’s weightier qualities.
Layering is a key tactic in Maliphant’s arsenal, his pieces tending to start with simple, isolated elements that are then added to and which increase in frequency and pitch to create something richer and more complex. Staton’s solo, ‘Two’, is the prime example. Performed on the spot in a square of light, the piece begins with single, high-pitched notes and simple gestures of the limbs, these foldings and unfoldings of arms and legs gradually becoming quicker and more nuanced, culminating in a fast-paced show of dexterity. The angles and curves cut by Staton’s sweeping limbs and twisting torso create the impression of a finely-honed sculpture come to life.
Thomasin Gülgeç’s performance of ‘Afterlight’ is a point of difference in the programme. Scored by the music of Eric Satie, it’s less of a study in symmetry than the other pieces and instead shows something more vulnerable. Hull’s lighting is quietened in this work, geometrical shapes giving way to pools of light that surge and recede like water, dappling the stage. Inspired by ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, the choreography is sympathetic and emotive, with limbs sometimes turned to ugly angles and an admission of softness in the movement.
The title piece of the evening, ‘Still Current’ has Maliphant himself and Staton performing a duet where the choreographer’s sculptural sensibility is foregrounded. Against an industrial soundtrack that suggests helicopters passing overhead in a jungle setting, the duo engage in a series of contact sequences and poses, extended limbs creating elegant outlines. Hulls’ lighting is a ferocious presence in the piece, squares of light expanding to fill the stage with dizzying speed, altering perceptions of Maliphant and Staton at the centre.
The last performance of ‘Still Current’ runs on the Abbey stage tonight – get tickets here.