Last October Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Russell Maliphant choreographed a 15 minute solo, Afterlight (Part One), for an evening at Sadler’s Wells celebrating the centenary of the founding of Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes. The solo met with critical acclaim and a year later Maliphant has expanded the piece into an hour-long dance performance featuring a trio of dancers: Daniel Proietto who performed in Afterlight (Part One), Silvina Cortes and Olga Cobos.

Matt Stuart
Matt Stuart

Maliphant has collaborated closely with his dancers and a creative team comprising lighting designer Michael Hulls, composer Andy Cowton and animator Jan Urbanowksi. Together they have tightly woven together the threads of choreography, light and music to create an exquisite blend of dance and stagecraft. Maliphant’s inspiration comes from photographs of and drawings by Nijinsky during his time with the Ballets Russes. In particular Nijinsky’s geometric drawings and paintings in circular designs provide a starting point for Maliphant’s exploration of flow and energy in dance movement.

The performance opens with Daniel Proietto alone on stage in a pool of light. Through costume and dance Proietto eloquently evokes the memory of Nijinsky as he launches into a fluid stream of movement tracing circles and curves with his arms, echoing the sculptural qualities of Nijinsky, before breaking into an impressive series of Sufi-like rotations. The opening is so impactful that it is almost impossible to sustain the same level of intensity throughout the subsequent sequences. This is also true of the music. The opening piece is performed to the Gnossiennes piano solos (1-4) by Eric Satie. Andy Cowton’s compositions seek to develop a similar tone before expanding in the final section to change the pace and energy of the evening.

Proietto’s performance is followed by the two female dancers Cortes and Cobos who move in unison in a grey box, their movements echoing images from Nijinsky’s own choreography. Joined by Proietto all three dancers are dressed simply in white and on the rare occasions when the dancers are still they are like unpainted, marble sculptures. These moments are rare. Most of the time their movements flow from one sequence to the next, creating and tracing a seamless and unbroken series of patterns on stage.

Old photographs of Nijinsky with different partners performing pieces such as L’Après-midi d’un faune and Jeux are referenced throughout. These old faded photographs are suggested on stage by the delicate framing of the dancers behind a gauze upon which abstract images are projected. One projection is reminiscent of autumn leaves while the second framed the stage with a decorative border of snowflake-like images – hinting at the changing pattern of the seasons, the beauty of nature’s own patterns and possibly a basic human desire to find patterns in life.

Afterlight has a dream-like ethereal quality throughout. The dancing is elegant and spare while the choreography is pure, simple and graceful. Even though the opening sequence is the strongest element of the evening, Maliphant has drawn upon the inspiration of Nijinsky and dancing history to create an exquisite and appealing contemporary work.