EDge in Cesilie Kverneland’s  (Parentheses). Photo Ivar Sviestins

EDge in Cesilie Kverneland’s (Parentheses). Photo Ivar Sviestins

Robin Howard Dance Theatre, The Place, London; June 30, 2013

David Mead

When you have completely new dancers and new repertory each year, performances can be a bit up and down. That will always be the case with any graduate or postgraduate performance company. It has to be said, though, that this evening by the eleven dancers of EDge, the postgraduate ensemble from the London Contemporary Dance School, turned out to be one of the best for some time.

EDge has a reputation for embracing and working across a range of contemporary dance styles, each year’s programme presenting a mix of new and original work by established and upcoming choreographers. On this particular evening, James Cousins, winner of the inaugural New Adventures Choreographers Award, certainly got things off to a dramatic start. Dancers are scattered around a shadowy stage, some standing, some in headstand, but all perfectly still. Almost imperceptibly at first, they fall as if felled by an axe. Like all the pieces, “As the Dust Settles” is abstract, but there are occasional hints of narrative, none more so than in two side-by-side duets. In a rectangle of light an argument seems to be taking place, or maybe has taken place. One dancer tries constantly to escape but is prevented by an invisible wall and her partner who keeps pulling her back. Next door, in a square of light, is a more playful duet. Links between the two couples’ movement suggest that maybe we are seeing the same couple at two different points in time.

Noticeable immediately in “As the Dust Settles” was the dancers’ great clarity of movement, something that was quite striking throughout the evening. The unison work was also excellent, something that has not always been the case in the past.

Swedish dance-maker Helena Frantzén’s “Altered States” started off intriguingly with five dancers manipulating small lights with their hands and feet, the faint glow from which being just enough to draw attention to their bodies. Interest soon waned, though, despite the best efforts of the dancers. Although they often looked at each other most intently, the movement itself told a different story and never got close to the tension in Jukka Rintamäki’s electronic score. The rather bland lighting after the opening didn’t help matters.

For the first time, two EDge dancers were asked to contribute works to the season’s repertory. The one seen here, Cesilie Kverneland’s “(Parentheses),” turned out to be a work of considerable promise. Kverneland is interested in the silence and slowness of photography, and making things look powerful but effortless. There is certainly plenty of that. Her dance features a lot of slow but quite strong movement interrupted by sharper moments. Time and again she is unafraid to give the audience time to take a moment in, thankfully resisting any urge she may have to always move on apace, something so many young choreographers fall prey to. Michael Mannion’s lighting was spot on. Often coming primarily from just one point, the beams caught the dancers’ arms beautifully. A section towards the end that featured their shadows on the backcloth as they stood with arms raised was especially striking. “(Parentheses)” is a ten minute short, but I suspect it could be taken much further. Although not performed here, reports suggest that fellow dancer Manoor Ali’s “Boney Virtues” was also worth catching.

That we would see a change of mood for the last piece was as predictable as day following night. Sure enough, the stage filled with smoke, the music volume was ramped up, the dancers slouched and shuffled. Yes, it could only be Hofesh Shechter! “Splinter,” originally created for EDge 2005 features all his usual shifting bodies and changing landscapes. In this quite early piece of his it was fascinating to see how he was already using devices that would later be repeated in other works, notably having all the dancers walk powerfully towards the audience in a line across the width of the stage. The energy and whole-hearted commitment of the dancers was striking. There were only five of them, but it looked like so many more.