This was an unusual event for extraordinary times: a triple bill of new works but presented on film, released on successive Friday lunchtimes (GMT) from 20th November to 4th December. Adventures in Film has provided a unique opportunity for three female choreographers to work with Adam Kes Hipkin of TEA films, creating bold and innovative dance films in pursuit of the New Adventures mission for storytelling. The choreographers were also given dedicated mentorship and support from Sir Matthew Bourne, Etta Murfitt and the New Adventures team.

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New Adventures in Tasha Chu's Nostos
© Kaasam Aziz

Opening the series was Nostos, choreographed by Tasha Chu, a Central School of Ballet graduate who made her New Adventures dancing debut in Matthew Bourne’s Romeo & Juliet. Her intriguing concept brought modern realism to the Ancient Greek ideal of the heroic homecoming of successful warriors (the definition of Nostos) and added a simple yet still surprising twist to challenge male subconscious bias. 

The film begins with a close-up on combat fatigues as the camera pans across a bedroom to a couple asleep and turned well away from each other, occupying opposite sides of the bed. Their mutual existence has returned to a domestic environment following a tour of duty but will the experience of war allow their lives to return to their previous normality as remembered in grainy images of happier times projected onto a wall midway through the film.

Seren Williams and Mark Samaras perform as the troubled couple (they are members of the NA ensemble who graduated together from Central School of Ballet, in 2016). Both have impactful and meaningful solos and the concluding duet (danced to the haunting, layered music of The Wild by Inalbis) is exquisitely composed and performed. Novel imagery in choreography is rare and the moment where Samaras appears to remove Williams’ head from his own shoulders is a powerful and expressive metaphor for their situation. The earlier score (also lovely) is Retreat by Chelsea McGough and Hipkin’s direction is compelling, aided by the camerawork of Oliver Bury and Joey Juilliard. Nostos was filmed on location at the Buckle Factory in North London.

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New Adventures in Anjali Mehra's Little Grasses Crack Through Stone
© Kaasam Aziz

Anjali Mehra’s Little Grasses Crack Through the Stone features three of the best female dancers of this generation: Cordelia Braithwaite, Charlotte Broom and Estela Merlos. This sensational film was inspired by Sylvia Plath’s radio play Three Woman: A poem for Three Voices, commissioned by BBC Radio in 1962, which was presented as a series of three interwoven monologues set in a maternity ward, with one woman giving birth to a baby she takes home; another who miscarries; and a third unmarried student who gives her baby up for adoption. The three dancers portray each of these women although it seems clear from their dress that Mehra’s vision has them existing in different eras (although they are often brought together). Plath took her own life less than six months after the broadcast when her son, Nicholas, was just twelve-months’ old. He was also to kill himself, almost 50 years’ later, bringing yet another layer of poignancy to this impressive work.

Mehra’s choreography presents a powerful, emotional study into these different states of maternity, which is beautifully performed by these exceptional artists. The music, by Stephen Keech and (again) Chelsea McGough, sets the tone superbly and the setting of Ed’s Shed plus a penultimate outdoor scene on West Beach at Hayling Island is equally pertinent to the mood, with the additional appearance of Aseah Poyntz as Charlotte Broom’s character (the mother who kept her baby) in old age.

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New Adventures' Rhys Dennis in Monique Jonas' Checkmate
© Kaasam Aziz

The final film in the trio was Checkmate by Monique Jonas, starring Rhys Dennis and Ihsaan De Banya. Christmas has always inspired ghost stories and the first few minutes have a spiritual aura with one man alone in a derelict house being shadowed by an elusive headless, androgynous figure dressed all in black. However, as the action progressed it became apparent that although distinctly shadowy, the mysterious stalker was of the human realm. 

The two figures spiral through their mirrored realities of normality and mystery, revealing hidden connections in their desolate rooms, before coming into combat on a huge chessboard and a final revelation of the truth. An effective composite musical score, also featuring work by Stephen Keech (Bamburgh), helped in the evocation of mystery and intrigue. Having a single director for all three films and a relay of composers forming a bridge between each of the works created the feeling of a triptych between three otherwise disconnected ideas. This was an excellent initiative from Sir Matthew Bourne and New Adventures, which I hope might be repeated in future years when it is no longer required by the needs of a dance industry starved of a theatrical outlet. 

These performances were reviewed from the New Adventures video stream

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