Naomi Reynolds' The Sob in the Spine is set to Robert Simpson's String Quartet No.7.  As the audience enters, the Dante Quartet is already seated onstage. There seems no obvious reason for this, as they aren't playing or performing any other action with any clear intention as we all take our seats. The longer the delay before the show actually begins, the more discomfiting the presence of the musicians becomes: why are they up there waiting if the performance hasn't started yet? Why not enter when the house lights go down? Is this, in fact, a part of the choreography?

The Sob in the Spine © Naomi Reynolds
The Sob in the Spine
© Naomi Reynolds
The programme notes inform us that this piece is a family matter: Robert Simpson, composer of the music to which the dance is set, is Naomi Reynolds's great uncle. Her choreography springs from the lifelong debilitating pain he experienced following a stroke. Around the time of the stroke, Naomi danced en pointe with the Royal Ballet. This dance is intended as an exploration of pain and the creative act. Rather than pain, what this piece represents to me is discomfort, a discomfort that starts with the jarring presence of the non-playing musicians onstage and continues throughout. The sleepwear-esqe costumes suggest an uncomfortable night's sleep, hinting at a distressing fantasy on the edge of a dream that is out of the control of the dreamer. Though the story of Reynold's genesis of this piece is extremely moving, the choreography is too fluid and the dancers' expressions too neutral to convey the fraught muscle-clenching of physical agony. I leave the piece not with the ghost of pain in my bones, as seems to be Reynold's intent, but merely ill at ease. 

He Waves His Dusty Hand Hello © Mari Colbert
He Waves His Dusty Hand Hello
© Mari Colbert
By contrast, Mansoor Ali and Ellen Johannson's choreography, You Wave Your Dusty Hands Hello, is an unadorned display of the joy of motion. Set to a compilation of jazz songs by Django Reindhart, Ali and Johannson move like a happy couple dancing with exuberant, undirected joy on a beach, like excitable particles interacting randomly at an atomic level or children unselfconsciously inventing new games. While very pleasant to watch, the piece seems to lack direction. Dancing is a joy: it doesn't take long to grasp this, and with no further depths to be explored, this piece could readily be much more concise. 

B-Hybrid Dance © Brian Gillespie
B-Hybrid Dance
© Brian Gillespie
My favourite performance of the evening, B-Hybrid Dance's Pace, is full of complex and thoughtful choreography playing on the strengths of a range of styles in the company. This piece uses the theatrical space very effectively, exploring lighting changes that give a clear sense of progression through different moods. Set to The Cinematic Orchestra's Night of the Iguana, Pace gives a clear impression of urban-dwellers bumping along next to one another, trying to navigate life's trials and tribulations while getting pulled along by a swelling tide that isn't necessarily moving at the same speed. There are some beautifully crisp moments here, including a confrontational duet rendered large by shadows projected on the back wall. The final stretch, in which a single dancer continues to strive despite unseen forces that continually knock her to the ground (particularly apt during these last few windy London days), is inspirational in its unswerving determination.