This year's Brighton Festival has been curated by renowned choreographer Hofesh Schechter, who has used his celebrity status to pull in a rich and varied dance programme. Some artists hail from overseas, others are more local, such as Brighton-based company Probe. Led by Antonia Grove, Probe creates collaborative work and drafted in musicians, writers and a theatre director during the creation of new work Running on Empty. The work is a richly textured weave of text, movement and music, allowing each to speak individually and not jostle too much for attention as is sometimes the case with interdisciplinary work. Dealing with concepts of grief, loss, love and possibly madness, the work sets up exciting prospects but falls a little short of the hard-hitting emotion it promises.

Running on Empty © Matthew Andrews
Running on Empty
© Matthew Andrews

Running on Empty opens with the butter-rich tones of musician Scott Smith, declaring that “this is the dream-time”, making it clear that anything can happen in the next hour, and does not necessarily have to adhere to the bonds of reason or sense. While this statement served to frame the work and prepare us for any potentially bizarre or disturbing happenings that might follow, it seemed a little like an excuse or disclaimer that undermined any really challenging or disturbing moments. It is a problematic thing to delve into the world of fantasy; it allows an observer to become detached, and the strength of emotional content becomes diminished and dismissed as whimsy. Having said this, Grove and co-dancer Greig Cooke do an excellent job of reclaiming some of this emotional content with strong performances; Grove in particular has a beautiful fragile and unpredictable quality that is not easily brushed off as make-believe.

The two dancers succeed in filling up the large space with expansive movement full of swoops and falls that keep them moving and exploring. They are a joy to watch; Grove's quick, darting movements are tempered by Cooke's calm and confident motion. They are a believable couple, at once supporting each other while always being on the edge of losing their balance. As the title suggests, this seems like a relationship that is losing its momentum. The pair look back at how things were, and dive into realms of fantasy to escape how things are.

A beautifully theatrical moment sees the pair board a raft, keeping each other aboard but aware of the possibility of falling in, of drowning. They ask, “What's it like, under the water?” There's a sense that whatever is under there will make itself known eventually, it just depends how soon they want to give in. This section had a childlike air of innocence, extended further in other scenes where the pair sing nonsense songs about animals and jump around the stage like chimpanzees. The shrieking and howling that ensues starts off as a game and ends up a frenzied mating ritual; over and over the pair swing between innocence and experience, light and dark, life and death.

While the fluctuation between humour and darker moments means the work does not feel too predictable, it also means that there is a lack of clear progression or succession of events. An impressive section where the tone becomes a lot darker and more violent is welcome due to its clear focus; Grove and Cooke engage in an aggressive duet of throwing and dragging each other around the space, flinging their bodies at each other with no care for consequences and only stopping when Grove appears too exhausted to stand. The change of pace and tone didn't stay long however, and consequently the emotional impact was diffused amongst the more fanciful scenes that followed.

Running on Empty was a piece in which, frustratingly, its parts were greater than their sum; individually everything was enjoyable but as a whole it just missed its potential. With collaborative work it must be so much harder to bring all the strands together; with this work Probe has very nearly succeeded. If dreams can be left to one side, Grove will have a chance to make the real world whatever she wants, and it will be captivating.

***11