Always expect the unexpected from these pop-up superstars of contemporary dance. New performances from this exciting collective of creative artists are few and far between; averaging just one production per year, since Casting Traces, in 2012/13. A Venn diagram showing the relationships between their four major works to date (including Collapse) would identify an interesting array of overlapping factors: not least between theatre and dance and in showing their productions to merge the principles of installation into traditional theatrical venues. New Movement Collective pop up in odd places, or – as here – use familiar spaces in unconventional ways, to put art, music, dance and architecture into one creative melting pot.
The word that springs most readily to mind when considering any of their works is “innovation” and Collapse. A Period Drama is perhaps the most unique dance performance we are likely to see in a very long while; an opinion that has very little to do with choreography. It begins with the preamble. Where Casting Traces was all about paper (the performance was located inside a paper maze), Collapse is entirely paperless. The programme was projected on a wall for the audience to digest for a few minutes before the show began; and “tickets” were wooden blocks that audience members were invited to insert, in the manner of Jenga, into a rising tower of wooden bricks that eventually – perhaps, to order – came tumbling down in loud crashes.
Innovation also extended to the use of theatrical space. This was a promenade performance, not for the faint-hearted, taking the audience from the windowless cavern of the Spirit Level Gallery, in the bowels of the Royal Festival Hall, up several staircases, to the external space of the roof, overlooking the River Thames. The performance was to last just one hour, a prediction that turned out to be spot-on since Oliver Coates ended his improvised electronic Cello accompaniment at the first chime of Big Ben, sounding 10pm; I doubt that many performances have been timed out by Big Ben; let alone danced in clear sight of this landmark.
Beginning in an art gallery was apt since this was dance in the manner of an exhibition, with an immense contribution from ScanLab Projects, a studio pioneering the creative use of large scale 3D scanning. Their holographic images were beamed onto screens alongside moveable sculptures, created through the amalgam of multiple slices of wood or resin (between 80 and 1,000 for each item) with screens and sculptures moved into place by the dancers. Another unusual dimension for this production was that it turned into a daily art exhibition, prior to each set of performances.
The audience milled around the gallery; unsure where to stand; surprised when the person next to them began to dance; and generally waiting for someone else to move before they did! A side issue of NMC performances is this fascinating, swarm intelligence psychology of group behaviour: even though – at one point - most of the dancers had moved into the other half of the gallery, the whole audience remained where they had started, uncertain if they were allowed to walk around. When one brave soul moved, the rest followed!
If there is a criticism of the performance it has to be that of sensory overload. Truly, this was a welter in the swelter, as a confusing mass of images flurried around the hot dungeon of the Spirit Level Gallery. In addition to the 3D imagery on both screens and trolleys, there was spoken text in the authoritative, sci-fi-style voiceovers of Penny Layden and via headphones in an instructive text about the physiological effort of walking up so many stairs; and, of course, there was movement. Beginning with Jon Goddard, the six dancers picked up a canon of repetitive athletic actions in amongst the audience, like cool kids dancing at a wedding. Eventually they sashayed into a unified line dance of running movement on the spot, replicating the slow motion replay of a sprint finish. After a quick change of clothes into more formal dress (white shirt and bow ties), Alexander Whitley, Clemmie Sveaas, Renaud Wiser and Goddard danced a kind of cotillion for two couples arranged in a square, each facing the centre.
As interesting as the first half-hour in the Spirit Gallery was, the whole performance took on another level – in more ways than the obvious – by the end of that thigh-trembling, uphill march to the roof. The sight of Goddard lifting Sveaas onto his shoulder with both dancers framed in the centre of the gently perambulating London Eye was a beautiful image within this magical setting, crafted from such familiar places.
One of the many slices of text was to proclaim that we never fall in love at a certain moment. “When you know that you have fallen in love, it has already happened”, said Layden. I can’t pinpoint when I fell under the spell of this charismatic group of creative artists; I just know that I have. The New Movement Collective doesn’t merely think outside the box; their utilisation of the Royal Festival Hall proves that they think underneath and on top of it.
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