Guildhall, Winchester, UK; October 23, 2014
After a performance I often ask myself: “Do I want to see this again?” After viewing “Casting Traces” twice in a day, I wished I could see it the following day as well. New Movement Collective (NMC) has rapidly become one the hottest companies in UK contemporary dance and this, my first encounter, fully justified their reputation for creating strong visual effects alongside high quality dance in unlikely spaces.
“Casting Traces” is inspired by “City of Glass”, the first novel in Paul Auster’s “The New York Trilogy”, a reimagining of the classic American detective story. Having begun to read the novel after the performance, I can see some links, but for most audience members the work will have a sense of mystery and characters searching for a solution, rather than a straightforward narrative.
In the Guildhall we were lead to a covered area, the Courtyard, and asked to put on white plastic coats and line up facing paper screens covering entrances to the performance space. Initially we see back projected silhouettes, first of a solo violinist and then a succession of dancers creating striking images: two men crouch away from us making wobbling, lumpy armless shapes on legs; a pair of dancers in a line at right angles to the screen alternately turn their heads to the side – a being with two faces. We hear and see two men with old fashioned telephones, the opening of “City of Glass”, as I learned between performances: “It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.” Then three figures trace their images as police do with a dead body but here with a weakening fluid on the paper screens. Starting with the head the outlines are slowly torn down – an invitation to enter the dance space.
Including the initial area there were some six spaces separated by more paper screens. We could duck down and pass between the spaces at will, after some initial reluctance to invade the performers’ realm. On the multiple screens we saw images of houses, doors and even ourselves with shadows of the dancers moving around us. At the first showing, the startling visuals and the proximity of the dancers was so exhilarating that it was only at the second performance I could focus on the movement as much as it deserved, performed by dancers of the highest quality: Navala Chaudhari, Malgorzata Dzierzon, Clemmie Sveaas, Kenny Wing Tao Ho, Daniel Riley and Renaud Wiser.
Following the mystery of the initial phone call, we see the characters grappling with uncertainty in a series of meetings and solos. One figure watches from corners, another smiles and dances playfully with the detective. There are touching duets and trios particularly with one character forever puzzled and concerned. There are several scenes of furious movement particularly towards the end as the detective descends into despair. The movement is always scintillating with swinging arms and legs in complex lifts often flying by only inches from my head. Sometimes audience members are involved directly: one woman standing on her own suddenly found herself part of a line of the dancers. Choreography and concept is credited to New Movement Collective, underlining the ensemble philosophy of the company.
The music is by Szymon Brzóska performed ably in the performance space by Linda Jankowska with additional recorded instruments, and varied between melancholy slow parts to rapid interludes and discordant scrapings reflecting the stages of the action, and adding to the overall excellence of the work.
New Movement Collective created “Casting Traces” in 2012 and it has previously been performed in disused spaces in the UK and Denmark, but producer and dancer, Malgorzata Dzierzon told me this, the final residence for the work, was the smallest venue. The variation between the venues has kept the company’s interest in the project high and with a maximum audience of around 20, the intimacy of the Guildhall space intensified the experience.
Wagner coined the term Gesamtkunstwerk, total theatre, where several art forms contribute to make a whole greater than the sum of the parts. “Casting Traces” fits this description perfectly: a thrilling, imaginative event with the different theatre arts combining to create a work unlike anything I have seen before.
New Movement Collective can next be seen in a scratch performance of a new work at Battersea Arts Centre, London (October 29); and in “Please Be Seated” at the Theatre Royal, Winchester (November 8) and Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, London (November 11-12). See www.newmovement.org.uk for details.