WRoNGHEADED – contemporary dance review

Contemporary Dance Show Review: WRoNGHEADED by Liz Roche Company.

Aug 5, 7-12, 14-19 Dance Base, Edinburgh Fringe 2018.

WRoNGHEADED opens with beautiful images: Mary Wycherley’s film of natural landscape – iceberg, water – glides into our vision before we see any dancers (it has featured in dance film festivals around the world and won an award in Kerry in 2017). Set to Elaine Feeney’s fierce poetry, the environment is swirly and sleepy in atmosphere. An elegiac lace-clad wood nymph drifts, contrasting with the glistening, jaggedy rockface; it’s a near-monochrome palette.

A single dancer slides on from a downstage corner, back arching, arm curving over, quiet as if on snow, not disturbing, not attracting attention. Electronic music now. We recognise the woman from the film become concrete, in the breath and shadow. There is an air of seriousness.

Liz Roche Company are currently in residence at the Dublin Festival and Roche herself is an experienced choreographer. Created in 2016, it sought to “highlight the frustration that many women feel in relation to the choices that have been available to them around their bodies in Ireland”, so it is indeed serious. Happily, some monumental changes have taken place since then, but there is still a way to go obviously.

For a time, the two women share the space but do not touch. With shoulders hunched, they slip and slide in slow motion, they roll, explore, suspend. One reaches with her chest. A breast is almost touched. Later hands are thrust between thighs; fingers are splayed; sudden sinewy ripples rack the torso and there’s an abrupt change of direction. Then it starts to change: angled arms, a knee crossed over a taut leg and they join. In a Contact Improvisation-based duet, any spaces between the dancers is highly charged. They react off each other, brush against, spring away from, only to return to the crook of a knee or armpit. After a struggle one lands on top of the other, a dead weight, and it takes some wriggling for the other to extricate herself.

The poem is complex, and only snippets come through when the focus is on the action: “Sorry, sorry”, “I’m in debt to you for giving me air to live”, “Nonononono”. Attention is necessarily split between the movement language and the words. The choreographer has mined the poem for ideas, so is it necessary to use it in its entirety? Its quality and that of the steps are imbalanced: one thought provoking and direct; the other sensual and atmospheric, dreamlike. Ultimately this is the type of contemporary dance which is dense and speaks to the initiated. It is not easily accessible, but aficionados will be impressed.

wrongheaded

It’s Not Over Yet… / How to Survive the Future

Double Bill It’s Not Over Yet… by Emma Jayne Parks / Cultured Mongrel; and How to Survive the Future by Tess Letham. Both at Dance Base Aug 5, 7-12 at 15.20 hrs.

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Severe trauma is the theme of both solos in this double bill of Scottish choreographer/dancers at Dance Base in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket. Both employ humour despite their serious subjects: Cancer (Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) in Emma Jayne Park’s It’s Not Over Yet…, and something less clear, probably relationship break-up, in Tess Letham’s How to Survive the Future. The former a 5 star and the latter a 3.

Letham performs her inaugural show with dedication and intensity. With a strong stage presence, she presents vignettes, often ironically, as she moves through the various stages of suffering and survival. She uses a lot of mime as if she fears her movement will not tell the story adequately. Making broad use of the stage and varying her speed, she employs a wide range of movement and yet there is a similarity of choreographic tone throughout.

Tess Letham

Set on a beach with a good range of costume changes, two wigs and two hairstyles, her work is attractive to view and most dramatic in intensity. Though fully committed – she throws herself onto the floor with the painful sound of knees on wood, she contorts and writhes with movement that should convey sorrow and hurt – it does not involve on a visceral level. It has not yet developed into a mature piece.

It’s Not Over Yet from Park’s (working under the creative handle Cultured Mongrel and with a fellowship to her name), is another thing entirely – this is a very strong, deep and well-balanced work. The raw emotion is inherent throughout in the long arms reaching and encircling the neck, the chin lifting while the throat stretches, the twisting and the sinking of the solar plexus. Almost entirely performed sitting on a chair, Park utilises a motif of hand wringing, wrist twisting movements which are complex enough to be repeated over and over, encapsulating the awful repetition of chemo treatments, sustaining our interest. This is compelling and we pay close attention to detail, as does she in her mindful performance.

Grimaces and grins are fleeting yet connect immediately with the audience. There is no self-pity here, neither yawn-making exposition of what it is like to have the big c. Yes, all the terrible symptoms (hair loss, sickness) are there, the endless ‘how are you’s and ‘are you better now’s of well-meaning friends and hospital staff are there, but they are conveyed with originality and intense mindfulness of performance.

Beware the sweeties! What you dread to see as you watch that brilliant section unfold, does.

Tess Letham 2