Family Portrait Photo Camilla Greenwell

Family Portrait
Photo Camilla Greenwell

Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, London
December 3, 2015

Maggie Foyer

Wild Card is a series of specially curated evenings given over to new dance makers and this was Leila McMillan’s turn in the spotlight. There was no denying the enthusiasm of those involved; from the table decorations and live band in the interval to create an ‘arts and culture café experience, or the pre-show film of a David Zambrano workshop or from the performers on stage and their friends in the audience. However it was difficult in all this to see a new direction or innovative practice in dance making.

Zambrano’s method, Flying Low and Passing Through, is described as a new technique. The film showed evidence of contact improv, spiced with an element of trust games and a lot of fun but added little to McMillan’s structured improvisation,  Family Portrait.

She has found an interesting idea, inspired by an old family photo that offers material for insightful characterisations. The initial close linked group, very folksy and cosy, had the intimacy of a litter of puppies rolling over each other and around the stage but with little sense of the personal. Over the 40 minutes, the rather self-conscious performers gradually build some relationships to others and even to the lampshade. With the festive season upon us, there was a feeling of déjà vu:  the tumbling, floppiness of the movements reminiscent of that 1am feeling on January 1 after a very heavy night of drinking. Looking at their happy faces, the performers possibly got more out of it than I did.

Paul Blackman,  Christine Gouzelis and Konstandina Efthimiadou in Lucid Photo Camilla Greenwell

Paul Blackman, Christine Gouzelis and Konstandina Efthimiadou in Lucid
Photo Camilla Greenwell

Lucid which opened the evening was created in Athens. Anybody working to create dance in Greece’s current economic climate is to be applauded and these three dancers, Konstandina Efthimiadou, Paul Blackman and Christine Gouzelis, all had something to offer. The work was an extract from a longer piece that explores ways to break the cycle of repetitive behavioural patterns. The messages were mixed, ranging from a vicious, but cleverly worked scene of domestic violence and intimidation, to shamanistic rituals with antlers creating intricate patterns. Lots of ideas but the extract would probably have worked better with a sharper focus on fewer of them. The choreographic language was inventive and interesting: the programme notes credit Blackman and Gouzelis with the conception and direction and a slew of names with creation, however the three dancers showed a distinctive style and gave strong performances.

The long lists of credits and supporters show that McMillan is capable of garnering support from an impressive range of sources but on the evidence of this evening, she didn’t come up with the goods. I hope there is more on offer to justify their confidence in her as a future dance maker.