The Place, London, UK; June 28, 2014

David Mead

EDge in Ben Wright's 'a power to bring light into a darkened room'  Photo © Ivar Sviestins

EDge in Ben Wright’s ‘a power to bring light into a darkened room’
Photo © Ivar Sviestins

This year’s programme from EDge, the postgraduate touring company of the London Contemporary Dance School, included works in a range of contemporary dance styles: by old masters and new commissions and collaborations with up and coming artists. It was an evening of ups and downs, of glorious choreography and frustration that sometimes made you want to cheer, but sometimes made you want to scream.

Yael Flexer’s 2010 piece, “The Living Room” explores notions of home and ‘unhome’ on stage. The excerpt performed here opens with each dancer asking one of the others to be the sofa, table, reading light, TV and so on, each requesting being greeted with a small movement phrase. It’s all terribly good mannered and most cordial until one petulantly refuses to be the TV, preferring to be the bookcase. The requests and thank yous are spoken with about as much feeling as a railway station automated announcement although that rather added to the slightly humorous nature of it all.

Before long, petty squabbles start to break out and a race for space and identity breaks out, the same movement material reappearing in various guises in often fast-paced, physical and increasingly aggressive dance. There is lots of walking round and running in circles, occasionally broken up by five of the dancers standing in a line to one side while one performs a solo. It was inventive and often fun – a bit like watching a game, not so much musical chairs as musical make-believe furniture.

The cast were absolutely together, with Elena Tsikitikou and James Kay in particular standing out for their dynamism. I’ve often been critical of the quality of the usually rough round the edges unison work at The Place, but there were no such issues here.

“The Living Room” included speech, which seems to be something of an obsession among today’s young dance makers. I remember when nudity was the ‘in thing’ – until people realised it was actually boring ninety per cent of the time. In the right hands, speech is a wonderful tool, but I do sometimes wonder if its use merely masks a choreographer’s inability or lack of confidence in making the body ‘speak’

Those thoughts were to the fore in “Spring on Mars”, made by Maya Levy, an interdisciplinary artist and educator at the School of Visual Theatre in Jerusalem. In it, the performers move from one situation, in one place, to another, mostly initiated by a command: ‘touch me’, ‘follow him’, ‘kiss me’. To be fair, it might have looked better if it hadn’t followed the Flexer, but it quickly became desperately predictable and tedious. One section, where everyone stood in a line, the second dancer hauling the front one out of the way and asking “can you see me?” seemed to go on for ever.

It might not have been the audience favourite, and perhaps it is a little old-fashioned, but for classy choreography and an object lesson in dance architecture, Trisha Brown’s “Canto/Pianto”, an abstracted telling of the Orpheus myth, won the evening’s honours hands down. It’s a sincere dance to Montiverdi’s “L’Orfeo”, full of flowing, complex patterns as the dancers weave in and out of one another in a rolling formation. As they do so, some are lifted and swung on high like bells tolling. Tsikitikou again stood out. When lifted she soared above everyone, almost seeming to suspend in the air. Best, though was her expression and use of the music. The way she accented movement, found time, and used every breath of every note was a delight.

Ben Wright, Associate Artistic Director of Skånes Dance Theatre in Sweden, gives absolutely nothing away in his programme note for “a power to bring light into a darkened room”. As watchable as it is, the dance doesn’t illuminate much either. It takes place within a square of light. The dancers, dressed all in variations on all white, often engage in what is clearly individually created movement, occasionally coming together to form small groups. A large poppy is passed between them. At times there it is so busy and there is so much going on that it’s difficult to take it all in. Slower, less crowded sections full of duets and small group moments that are more lyrical but that simultaneously seem to have a decidedly edgy tension to them, and contrast nicely with what went before. The music, “Road Moves for Violin and Piano” by John Adams, is an ideal accompaniment.