Patrick Centre at the Birmingham Hippodrome
September 23, 2016
Alexander Ekman’s Tuplet does not get off to a great start. The attraction of watching the crew set the stage while projectors show close-ups of mouths and hands while a dance dances on the spot soon palls. Imagine someone, headphones on, dancing away oblivious to anyone else. That’s precisely it, and it’s about that (un)interesting.
Thankfully, things pick up and Ekman’s class shines through. Tuplet takes a sideways look at rhythm, audible and visible, tossing in a few surprises and some humour along with way. Among the sections are one where we see the line-up of six dancers responding with specific movement to the calling of their names. It’s a really simple idea but done cleverly. The more it goes on, the more complex (names start to repeat and the order gets all mixed up) and better it gets, the dancers showing great sharpness and split second timing. Best, though, is a dance to a recorded explanation of what rhythm is, or could be, or might be. And “what would life be without rhythm?” as it asks. Great fun and a great start to the evening.
In Lee Johnston’s They Seek to Find the Happiness They Seem, we see Matteo Marfoglia and Elena Thomas at first gently dance together, but the way they deliberately avoid eye contact suggests there a few problems with the relationship. There is the same lack of communication is kept when they later dance in perfect unison, Johnston creating some excellent patterns as he/she makes great use of the space. Even when they finally turn to one another, and as the light go down, the distance remains. It’s an absorbing 13 minutes, although I’, not sure where it might go from here.
“There’s nowt so queer as folk” as the saying goes, and the characters in artistic director Caroline Finn’s Folk do sometimes behave in some strange and very idiosyncratic ways, even if there is always the sense that they are a very close-knit community.
The opening picture is one of several striking images that Finn creates. The dancers are mostly gathered around a table, a bit like a very old family photograph. Their costumes, a little bit shabby, mostly muted greys and greens, all old-fashioned shifts and cowls, make it look like we’ve suddenly dropped in on some surreal fantasy world, a feeling that’s helped along enormously by designer Joe Fletcher’s gorgeous upside-down tree that hangs over the stage, a pile of deal leaves beneath.
As Folk progresses, Finn treats us to a series of dances, many of which developed from individual dancer explorations of their particular character. Movement conversations appear and disappear. Mood and movement vocabulary shift all the time, from gorgeous very physical duets to languid Hofesh Shechter-like group shuffling and more. You never know quite what is coming next. Best are the scenes where everyone comes together, or where everyone else stops for a particular couple or trio, especially that to music by Mkis Theodorakis (the music is as varied as the dance).
Folk ends with the sort of self-absorbed, near-beatboxing playing with rhythms that we saw in Tuplet. It creates a nice circle to the evening, although it has to be said that Ekman does it with rather more style.
All-round, a more than interesting evening, with a great mix of styles, from an excellent company clearly headed in the right direction.