Patrick Studio, Birmingham Hippodrome (presented by DanceXchange)
February 10, 2022
On a bare stage, its floor covered in what looks like golden sand (actually granulated rubber), Léa Tirabasso’s Starving Dingoes presents five dancers portraying the urgency to live; or perhaps better, given the barren landscape with its post-apocalyptic feel, to survive.
That sandy floor, created by designers Nicolas Tremblay and Thomas Bernard, gives the setting an ancient feel. Yet, simultaneously, it feels very of today or even of the future. Cracking and fracturing noises in the soundscape and ‘sand’ occasionally falling from above suggests fragility and impermanence.
In many ways, the group is dysfunctional. They seem to have been thrown together by chance. But to survive they need to stay together. For almost an hour they dance intensely, often furiously, to Johanna Bramli and Ed Chivers’ ever pulsing, ever thumping score. They are very much individuals. Although human, there is an animalistic element to much of the choreography, which has a primitive feel to it. Indeed, Gabrielle Moleta, whose own company makes theatre from the starting point of animal observation is credited as ‘Animal Transformation Coach’.
They have a desperation and an insatiable desire to hang on in there that trumps all. At first, they move as a tight pack. Always close together, they crawl, inch and slide. But one senses a change. Individuals or pairs break out. You feel they become increasingly sensitive to every move, every look from the others. They need to stay together but they also look out for themselves.
The movement vocabulary becomes even more agitated, quirky, yet remains oddly beautiful, certainly compelling. Bodies twitch and jerk. They shuffle and edge around each other. There are strong hints of uncertainty. The physicality, energy and tension are all very impressive. I’m less sure about the need for vocalisation, though.
Occasional one dancer or a couple breaks away, but they are always stopped from escaping or are pulled back. During development, Tirabasso worked in collaboration with cancer scientists and was inspired by a process known as ‘apoptosis’ (programmed cell death, used during early development to eliminate unwanted cells). You can imagine the dancers as cells under a microscope.
The choreography often refers back to moments we have previously witnessed but never feels repetitive. There are always little developments. You always feel it is heading somewhere, even if you are not quite sure where.
When death does come, the throbbing music gives way to something akin to a tolling bell. It provides for a beautiful, quiet and rather poignant conclusion; a stark contrast to what has gone before. It’s also perfect.