Budding young choreographer Renaud Wiser presents two dynamic, experimental pieces, his choreography bearing the hallmark of his dancing experience. An ex-Rambert dancer, Wiser is a founding member of the New Movement Collective and this evening’s presentation is supported by Free To Fall, an artists and producers development programme. These things enable – not define – Wiser and his work, which remains individual. There is a visceral, up-close-and-personal quality to these pieces which, in the small studio theatre of Rich Mix, make a vivid impression. 

The opening piece Skin Walkers suits is name. There is an eeriness to all elements of the piece that builds a feeling of uneasiness. Two dancers, Aaron Vickers and Marina Rodríquez Hernández, are dressed in white and lit from either side in red and green like we’re watching through retro 3D glasses. They begin by manipulating body parts, moving limbs, hips and shoulders in isolation, working through their joints one by one, as if unfamiliar with their own bodies. They appear to be unaware of each other, yet suddenly they spring together: Vickers stands behind and encloses Rodríquez Hernández, their two pairs of arms folding, cage-like, around her placid, unflinching face. There is a frantic build-up prompted by a flickering neon light, then a sudden hush spreads through the space as the dancers, lit now by a single bulb, fall still. They huddle on the floor, ears covered, kneeling and childlike – there is an ominous feeling of post-apocalyptic confusion, the calm after a major disaster. But, rather than giving in to desperation, the pair continue with the methodical exploration of their own and one another’s physical capabilities, which is far more dread-inducing.

The intimate space of Venue 1 at Rich Mix enabled a sense of visceral engagement with this piece, particularly during a brilliant floor sequence that occurred quite literally at my feet. The most visually interesting moments were those of shared contact between the dancers – their explorations of dancing together – rather than those of unison or solo sequences. Moments of giving and taking weight – a brief placement of her cheek on the back of his thigh, of his head in her hands – were stunning. The piece had a sustained momentum which, combined with strangeness of movements such as the recurring motif of pushing up, away from the floor through gorilla-like fists, felt almost like a health hazard. Continually driven onward by the unrelenting, high-octane sequences, the dancers seemed like pawns in a bigger plot, drones dancing under duress disregarding their mortality. In their white clothing they were still visible as the lights faded, giving the impression the movement would never wind down within the world of the dance. Skin Walkers was skin-crawlingly menacing.

The second piece, Metropolis, plays with ideas of territory using a set of building bricks that the dancers move around the space, creating boundaries, perimeters, towers, peaks and bridges. Four dancers squat, balanced atop a small pile of bricks. They move, waiver and fall from their pedestals. A road of bricks gradually appears, spaced diagonally across the stage, along which Rodríquez Hernández and Lisa Welham step, tentatively at first but quickly getting savvy enough to also place their hands on the bricks, and share a tangled Twister-inspired moment  at the centre. Rodríquez Hernández runs, with mountain goat balance and quick feet, along its length, only to be carried, flailing and unwitting, back to where she started. Welham, unable to balance, sways from side to side, topples, and is caught close to the ground, by Vickers and Gareth Mole.

Vickers and Mole share a territorial, feud-like duet as they are gradually enclosed in a brick perimetre, They battle, square up, and then hare around the stage together until Mole casts Vickers a hard ‘stop copying me’ stare. Rodriquez Hernandez performs a twitching, unnatural solo, repeating an earlier motif in which the dancer springs upwards from the floor, weight entirely on the front of her (distended) ankles.

The use of technical elements here is extremely engaging. Standing downstage centre, Vickers faces the back wall and lifts his shirt while a miniscule dancer is projected onto his bare back. She rolls across his back, climbs up his spine and hangs from the crook of his neck with one hand. Wiser uses the bricks to their full potential to create a very dynamic set, although the boundaries or territorial features are often too quickly discarded. The transformations between one brick structure and the next are often not noticeable, but some formations are unnecessary and there is a sense of using solo sequences to distract attention from the building of brick formations, rather than for the choreography itself. David Lang’s music, weighty and dramatic, really helped shape the atmosphere, as did Chris Swain’s lighting design.

In both these pieces, Wiser’s choreography of floor-work was particularly memorable. All of the dancers had a great sense of fluidity and their bodyweight was used to create and follow momentum. The dancers were soft enough in the hips and spine to fall heavily to the ground, yet strong enough to spring skywards with a minute change of impulse. The four dancers were fully committed to every movement, rushing headlong at every sequence and all giving stunning performances.

A group of current Rambert dancers crowding around this budding young choreographer at the end of the evening is but a small hint of the support Wiser will likely receive. His experience as a dancer with Rambert, together with his continued relationship with the company, augur well for Wiser's future as a choreographer.