The simple idea behind maliphantworks was to present excerpts of his choreography, covering the past 20 years, performed by the original dancers. It wasn’t exactly a “Best of Maliphant”; more, a selection of edited highlights from his remarkable output to date.  

Dickson Mbi and Tommy Franzen in Maliphantworks © Johan Persson
Dickson Mbi and Tommy Franzen in Maliphantworks
© Johan Persson

The Coronet was an unfamiliar but nonetheless effective setting for an intimate appreciation of these maliphantworks. The theatre has survived numerous attempts at demolition; narrowly avoiding becoming a fast-food outlet in the 1990s. In 2014, the Coronet was taken over by The Print Room with a welcome long-term strategy to keep the arts venue viable. Dark, velvety Victoriana seeps into every nook and cranny (and there are many) with leather chairs, dusty bookcases and discrete table lamps. The informal bar is built into the back of what was the Orchestra Stalls, retaining a distinctive rake that makes one drink seem like six!     

This uncustomary venue had a further unusual twist, since the programme was split over two theatre spaces, with the first act shown in the studio, over two consecutive showings (the other half of the audience sitting it out, alternately, in the aforementioned sloping bar). The need for this separate venue was to accommodate the Wall from Maliphant’s The Rodin Project (2012), the most recent of the four works featured in this extraordinary show.   

Tommy Franzén and Dickson Mbi turned climbing into dance with their elegant portrayal of gymnastic physicality. It must help that Franzén lists rock-climbing amongst his eclectic interests as he and Mbi reprised this particular highlight from Maliphant’s atmospheric full-length work. Both men scale and stick to the 8’ high wall with an effortless – and apparently weightless – agility that is absolutely absorbing.

Dana Fouras in Maliphantworks © Johan Persson
Dana Fouras in Maliphantworks
© Johan Persson
The three other works were performed in the main theatre. Sadly, an injury to James de Maria meant the cancellation of Unspoken, his intended duet with Maliphant, and, chronologically, the first of these works to have been made; but this enabled the choreographer to substitute an extra treat through his performance of One Part II, a 2002 reworking of his self-choreographed solo, from 1998. At an age when most other men are seeing the landscape of their torsos moving steadily south, Maliphant is still in great physical shape. He possesses such intricate muscular control that the fine details of his movement, from the twist of a finger to spiral rotations of the body, viewed at close quarters, in this intimate setting, had an arresting impact.

This feeling of captivation continued into the next two solos. Dana Fouras returned to give a masterclass in Maliphant’s seminal work, Two, which although being lent to Sylvie Guillem to perform, was created on Fouras, back in 1997; and subsequently expanded into a duo and a trio, in the early Noughties. It characterises the trademark, smooth integration of movement, lighting and music in the ongoing partnership between Maliphant, Michael Hulls and Andy Cowton, which had effectively begun, the previous year, with Unspoken. Like Ravel’s Bolero, it is a work that builds to end in a stunning climax.  

As Fouras’ arms slip in and out of thin strips of light, enclosing her within a performance box, she encourages the audience’s anticipation of those connections; playing with the rhythms in Cowton’s voluptuous music, just as enticingly as she slices through the light. This is a work of which one is unlikely to ever tire.  

Daniel Proietto is so indelible to the impact of Afterlight (Part One) that it is impossible to imagine anyone taking his place. Made in 2009, initially as a project for three dancers but trimmed to this opening 15-minute solo for the In the Spirit of Diaghilev programme, commissioned by Sadler’s Wells, it was performed so strikingly by Proietto that he was a runaway winner of that year’s National Dance Award for Outstanding Modern Performance. 

Daniel Proietto in Maliphantworks © Johan Persson
Daniel Proietto in Maliphantworks
© Johan Persson
Proietto returned to win us over again with his spiralling arcs of movement. His feline, pliable qualities invest the work with a light, airy energy that aligns perfectly with Satie’s well-known Gnossiennes. Integration of lighting and movement is taken a step further from Two, segueing from a box bordered by thin strips of illumination to a dappled downwards shower of light, developed by Hulls in association with Jan Urbanowski’s projections; creating a myriad of textural possibilities as Proietto’s body spins through the mottled light. 

Linking us back to Rodin, there is a sculptural quality to the spirals through Proietto’s body, twisting up from his torso into a gentle torsion that appears to release through his raised elbows and wrists.  I’ve never seen another male dancer with the ability to spin as effortlessly, as gently and as prodigiously as Proietto.  

Maliphant has achieved a unique movement style and a highly collaborative artistic direction, largely built upon instinctive cooperative understanding with long-term partners (Fouras, in every sense of the word, Hulls, Cowton and not forgetting the impactful costume designs of Stevie Stewart). To this, we can now add the highly sympathetic theatrical environment of the Coronet, which provided the perfect setting for these maliphantworks.

*****