Platform Theatre, Central St Martins
8 April 2016
The attraction of dance to the electric light started with Lois Fuller over a century ago and as technology advances, the fascination continues. Alexander Whitley now takes up the challenge at one of London’s newest dance venues The Platform. It’s an exciting space especially when stripped of curtains and with all its techie innards exposed. The metal girders of the fly tower with strobes of light searching into the depths, made a very intriguing preshow diversion.
Whitley teams up with Natalie Allen, a charismatic performer whom he rightly foregrounds. In an abstract work, she has only to stretch out on the stage for a frisson to ripple through the auditorium. Her final solo moments seemed to give the work its raison d’etre as she plays in the beam of lights like Ondine splashing in the waterfall. The stream of light, low and horizontal, illuminates to startling brilliance when they engage with her body in a creative fusion of light and movement.
The opening sequences take a different tack. Scanner’s insistent throbbing rhythm is accompanied by a fierce glare of lights flashing intermittently in the manner of strobe and equally disconcerting. This continues to headache inducing levels while the dancers are barely seen in the turmoil.
The challenge, when faced with such an exciting box of technological tricks, is to find a reason for the choreography that is more than just ‘what shall we try next’. The powerful lights are more effectively used when shielded by screens which add shadowy reiterations of the moving bodies, making the two dancers into a ghostly ensemble.
Whitley and Allen are in command of the stage setting. They shift the screens and the eight spotlights, chunky little fellows on rollers which seem to have a personality of their own (they even got their own call at the end!)
The performance lasts an hour and there are some truly electrifying design moments. Whitley has proved himself an innovator in movement but in this uneven mix his choreographic voice tended to be less prominent. Nevertheless, it was a brave experiment that certainly deserves to be explored further.