James Cousins Company has created a double bill of emotional works that demonstrate exquisite movement style and a lot of promise from the up and coming choreographer.

The two works are inspired by the tale of love and loss depicted in Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood. Examining a fragile and crumbling relationship from first the man's and then the woman's side, the two works complement each other well: where Without Stars is complex and frenetic, There We Have Been is calm and contemplative.

<i>Without Stars</i> © David Foulkes
Without Stars
© David Foulkes
Without Stars, the longer of the two, is a taut, restless piece that unpicks his side of the story, and finds him caught between past desires, current struggle and an uncertain future. While the movement is inventive and skilful, the work suffers slightly from a choppy structure that leaves some of the ideas and motifs struggling for space.

The piece commences with him sitting with his back to us, smoking a cigarette and trying hard to look casual. His partner enters, beguiling and frustrating him all at once. Their choreography is fluid and slippery, with him and his not-quite-lover drawing circles around, under and above each other, like an embrace that just misses. Her thoughts seem to be elsewhere: she wanders onstage, performing a short, sweeping solo that repeats and evolves. He tries to join in but can't catch up as she rolls, dives and swoops out of grasp, never quite ignoring or acknowledging him.

The central couple has a supporting cast of two other men who insinuate themselves into the relationship and force the couple apart. One is determined to tempt out the fun and careless side of the wayward man, sharing a boisterous and flirtatious duet with him that distracts him from his fragile partner and allows her to drift further away. This positive and joyful exchange between the two men looks a lot more fun than the strained relationship at the heart of the work, that seems to thrive on pain and confusion. Frustratingly, with all the dramatic conflict and emotion between the central couple, there is no space for us to appreciate what it is he is about to throw away. The absence of many lighter and warmer moments made it difficult to completely believe they were ever really in love, and stopped me fully committing to their narrative.

The second male character was quite odd — he appears dressed in black, even wearing gloves and on one occasion a shroud to cover his face, and looms out of the shadows ready to catch the woman as she falls, or to lend her a hand as she recovers. I enjoyed their tender interchanges, but as soon as I realised he was wearing gloves I forgot to watch the dance and wondered about his sartorial choices. He was an interesting character who was both positive and unnerving, but the costume detracted and just left me a bit confused.

<i>Without Stars</i> © David Foulkes
Without Stars
© David Foulkes
Choreographically, the piece was polished and impressive, with some beautiful and intricate partner work that shows a choreographer with an eye for originality. However, some ideas got glossed over due to the unrelenting pace.

There we have been, a relatively short duet focused on her side of the story felt refreshing in its calm manner. It starts with the woman standing on her partner's shoulders, though thanks to effective lighting she appears to float in darkness. Throughout the duet, she never touches the floor, but is supported at all times by her partner. This lends her a fragility and a sense of dependence, yet she seems to be the one in control. She pushes against him, testing her weight and daring gravity to consume her, but knowing he will always catch her. The movement is sophisticated and unusual, with angular poses and inventive lifts preventing it from being too much like a balletic pas de deux. With this duet, James Cousins demonstrates real choreographic skill, taking one concept and stretching it to its furthest edges, giving it the space to really fly.

Overall the evening showed a lot of promise for this young company. Hopefully, the bravery and bold simplicity of There we have been will be the theme for the future.

***11