Rackets Court, Rugby School (as part of The Festival on the Close/Rugby Festival of Culture)
June 26, 2019
It might not have actually been raining (which seems a rarity this June), but it was grey, damp and blustery. Not the sort of weather to be performing dance or juggling outdoors, let alone dance that involves acrobatic lifts and balances so associated with Motionhouse. So, instead of the New Quad, it was off to Rugby School’s Rackets Court. And what a super venue it made too, for what turned out to be a wonderfully entertaining double bill.
Gravity is the latest duet to come out of the Leamington Spa-based company. Actually created by Kevin Finnan with dancers Chris Knight and Naomi Tadevossian last year, for various reasons this was its first outing.
The roughly 15-minute duet nods to the fact that it’s almost exactly 50 years since the first moon landing (the anniversary falls on July 20 this year), as the white-clad Knight and Berta Contijoch explore of weightlessness and zero-gravity. Communications from that Apollo 11 mission are also neatly built into Sophy Smith and Tim Dickinson’s soundscape.
There is lots of hand-to hand acrobatics, including some breath-taking balances; and lots of signature Motionhouse contact choreography. The level of trust was extraordinary. Yet reversing the usual company style, the dance is mostly slow. The astronaut lunar-style walking is an easy spot, but there’s much more too. What really strikes though, is the strength and remarkable, almost balletic grace with which it is done.
When brief speedy interludes do come, often with bodies rolling or diving over one another, they appear from nowhere and often stop suddenly. Some of the moments of suspension are divine.
The white costumes against the black walls of the racket court helped a lot, but the piece does have a sense of happening in a huge void; the empty blackness of space. At one point, the couple pause to look up and out, as if unable to take in the vastness of what they see.
Designed to be watched from three sides, Gravity can be performed indoors or out. I have a sneaky feeling the shift indoors to the Rackets Court was a strike of luck. The venue suited it perfectly. It’s also not difficult to imagine it danced on a proscenium stage, but very simply lit amid surrounding blackness.
Gravity was preceded by a short piece performed by eight keen and enthusiastic Rugby School students created during workshops at the school, and that featured some confident lifting and partner work.
Choreographed and performed by Chris Patfield and Jose Triguero, and produced in collaboration with Gandini Juggling, Gibbon is a warm, fun and hugely entertaining mix of light touch comedy and physical theatre; and juggling.
It’s rather like watching a rehearsal. There’s a lovely chemistry between the two performers. In their dark grey suits and cherry red T-shirts, they chatter as they juggle, providing a running commentary on what they’re doing. When they talk, it’s casual, very much to each other as if the audience weren’t there; and when one doesn’t quite do what the other expected, the looks they give each other are very funny.
After a formal bow, they each toss five balls to Bob Dylan’s ‘How many roads must a man walk down’. When a ball (deliberately) thuds to the floor the music stops instantly. The timing is remarkable. “Shall we do that again?” says one. It’s repeated, and the more they do it, the funnier it gets. Rather cleverly, building drops in like this helps when unplanned drops occur. You just accept it as part of the show.
Later, tensions that you get in rehearsal are hinted at. And there are lions; or Patfield and Triguero suddenly pretending to be lions. It is the sort of silly thing that can and does happen in rehearsal, but they soon move back to juggling and more intricate tosses and throws.
And there is gibbon-like contortion as arms stretch behind backs and around partners, balls are thrown between legs and balanced on various parts of body and head. Sometimes balls are taken out of the equation, arms and bodies still moving as if there is something to catch.
We may not have had the benefit of Guy Dickens’ lighting design here, but in many ways that stripping back to the bare essentials and the being so close up revealed much more. Certainly, you couldn’t help fell the lovely sense of play, of companionship, of having a good time; and Patfield and Triguero’s great personal charm. Oh yes, and the super juggling.