Patrick Centre, Birmingham, UK; October 18, 2013

David Mead

Company Chameleon (here Kevin Edward Turner and Elena Thomas) in 'Eden'. Photo © Brian Slater

Company Chameleon (here Kevin Edward Turner and Elena Thomas) in ‘Eden’.
Photo © Brian Slater

Manchester has not had a huge creative impact on British dance in recent years, but this double bill by The Lowry resident ensemble, Company Chameleon, suggests things may be changing.

“Eden” and “Pictures We Make” explore people’s relationships, obsessions and love, but in very different ways. Jonathan Goddard and Gemma Nixon are already well-known choreographers and their “Eden” has quality writ large through it. It is thoughtful and well-crafted. It has an easy ebb and flow about it, and is packed with fluid, easy on the eye movement and meaningful gesture.

Essentially, the work is an exploration of the internal world and one’s relationship with oneself. The two sides of the individual are sharply observed. Co-artistic director Anthony Missen, Daniel Alfonso, Elena Thomas and Nixon herself tend to dance as couples, although partners are sometimes exchanged. Sometimes the couples are as one, moving together precisely, one appearing to be a shadow to the other. At others, they follow one another; the inner desire leading the outer body perhaps. Sometimes there is a clear sense of questioning. Small pauses are slipped into the dance during which the dancers look at each other. All the time, though, there is a clear connection between them.

The whole effect is magnified by Yaron Abulafia’s imaginative, smoky, sparse lighting. Dancers frequently appear as hazy blurs in the darkness, in pools of light or either side of a line. One striking section uses the latter idea most effectively to represent an invisible mirror. John Matthias and Andrew Prior’s original music complements perfectly the dance and mood, while Fabrice Serafino’s simple costumes are nicely unfussy.

Company Chameleon (here Kevin Edward Turner (rear), Anthony Missen and Gemma Nixon) in 'Pictures We Make'. Photo © Brian Slater

Company Chameleon (here Kevin Edward Turner (rear), Anthony Missen and Gemma Nixon) in ‘Pictures We Make’.
Photo © Brian Slater

Missen and fellow co-director Kevin Edward Turner’s “Pictures We Make” takes a rather different course, and is a more brutal, and some might say more realistic, interpretation of emotion. You don’t need the programme note to work out that it came from personal stories and experiences. The mood is ramped up by Spanish musician and composer Miguel Marin’s throbbing, somewhat disturbing soundtrack and Abulafia’s again excellent lighting.

The smooth fluidity of “Eden” is replaced by collision. The dance is harsher and more physical. Whereas in “Eden” there is a feeling that of always being as one, here the dancers are clearly separate individuals, with strained relationships and struggles there for all to see. There is a clear sense of distance, even when dancing together or in an embrace. There’s a lot of throwing chairs around, fighting and arguing.

The choreography is also rougher around the edges. Some sections are incredibly effective, most notably a cloying duet towards the end during which one of the women hangs like a heavy weight around her partner’s neck. Essentially it’s about her need to belong. As much as he tries to escape her clinging embrace, he cannot. Others sections work less well, most notably when the dancers stand in a line and pull faces, including some very fake looking smiles. I assume it’s supposed to say “look beneath the outer expression and don’t necessarily believe what you see,” but there was nothing to see beneath.