November 27, 2020
If there is one good thing that has come out of this year for dance, it is surely the opportunities and possibilities the situation has thrown up for combining dance and film. In Matthew Bourne and New Adventures’ latest digital endeavour, Adventures In Film, an association with TEA Films, three female choreographers create new filmed short dance stories. Each directed by Adam Kes Hipkin and around eight minutes long, they are packed with atmosphere.
Most engaging of the three is Nostos (the homecoming) by Tashu Chu. Like the others, it opens with a screen card, here asking, “The war is over will they find peace?” The war, we are to learn, was real. More ambiguous until the end is which of them went to went to war; or was it both? Now reunited after being separated by duty, they are facing challenges they never imagined.
We first see them in the bedroom. They are troubled and unable to sleep but turn their backs on each other, minds elsewhere. The film soon cuts to an abandoned warehouse; a metaphor for the abandonment and emptiness both are feeling inside, perhaps. Light coming through a large window seems like a portal into another dimension. A solo for Seren Williams is at times full of yearning, at others full of demons. It feels incredibly honest and real. The choreography for Mark Samaras is more graceful and balletic. Scenes from a happier past are shown on a backing film as they come together. Can they ever be regained when tension is writ so large?
Oliver Bury’s camerawork is gorgeous throughout. Perhaps again like their minds, the dancers frequent the shadows. Those moments when they are shot in silhouette against the light from the huge windows are quite beautiful.
“How many lives do we live? Three women, three stories…one lifetime,” we read at the beginning of Little Grasses Crack Through the Stone, choreographed by Anjali Mehra and inspired by Sylvia Plath’s little-known Three Woman: A poem for Three Voices. First broadcast on BBC Radio in 1962, it consists of three interlaced monologues as Plath captures the stories of the three women. All pregnant at the beginning of the poem, they go on to have very different experiences: one has a successful birth, one has a miscarriage, and one gives her unwanted child up for adoption.
Like the poem, the film explores and intertwines the three stories. The choreography for dancers Charlie Broom, Cordelia Braithwaite and Estela Merlos initially incorporates lots of gestures around the stomach indicating pregnancy. Later there’s much holding of faces in despair. White masked figures appear throughout, sometimes just watching, but most powerfully as the faceless people who carry one the new born babies away. And yet, apart from that one moment, there is little sense of the pain of loss. What should have been hard hitting and emotionally loaded, I found strangely not.
Monique Jonas’ Checkmate opens with the statement, “Two paths…one truth. One man’s journey into the shadows.” There are certainly shadows; in light and in the mind.
We find ourselves in the company of Rhys Dennis in a what is left of an apartment and its crumbling and peeling walls, and bare or missing floorboards. It’s just another evening, that is until normality is interrupted by the presence of a black, shrouded figure, hunched over to appear headless. Always there, wherever Dennis seems to go and as reality becomes blurred, there’s a strong sense of foreboding.
As the pair come together, the two are clearly intimately connected, at one point quite literally by a long piece of material. ‘Two paths’ do indeed become one. The nature of the ‘one truth’ is revealed too, but only following a super final confrontation on a giant chess board.
We all can’t wait for live performance to full houses to return. But as Mathew Bourne says, “Whilst we are unable to make work on stage, we have seen the power that film possesses, a means for people to connect, be inspired and thoroughly experience the joys of dance. We believe that this opportunity for financial support, mentorship and guidance to these three choreographers is a way for us to further nurture and develop the future of dance and protect the needs, not only for the performing arts, but for the next generation of artists to thrive in their chosen areas of dance, theatre and storytelling through the medium of film”. Chu, Mehra and Jonas have certainly taken their opportunity.