In the first evening of The Place’s 2012 Spring Loaded showcase, Robert Clark and Darren Ellis dance presented two very different pieces that made for an enjoyable but eclectic show. The night began with Darren Ellis’ Long Walk Home, a series of solos performed by four women, who are at different points in their lives, investigating their current relationship with dance. The second work, Robert Clark’s Badlands, is a love story that references a broad range of music and films, but throughout the pieced-together storyline the dancers never quite reach their idyllic happy ending.

Darren Ellis Dance, Long Walk Home © Stephen Berkeley
Darren Ellis Dance, Long Walk Home
© Stephen Berkeley

Ellis’ Long Walk Home strung together moments of joy, trepidation, melancholy and reflection, to the comforting music of the Askew Sisters. The stage was set with four white balloons each tied to a pair of shoes scattered around the stage, representing the four dancers. The dancers’ solos were a snapshot into the lives and dreams of the four women, who were all wearing black long-sleeved dresses, with crisp white collars. The first dancer, Linda Lewcock, performed a solo composed of gestural movement and focus that seemed to reflect on both the happiness and the sadness in her life. The wisdom and maturity Lewcock possessed made the simple movement resonate with a unique clarity. The second and youngest dancer, Mari Hullet, expressed the excitement and joy of moving in a spritely solo; full of jumps, rhythmical arm movement, and quick footwork. The dancing was exuberant and well executed.

The third solo, performed by Lauren Potter, was more weighted than the first two and expressed the amount of physical knowledge and experience she has collected throughout her dance career. Toward the beginning of the solo, Potter alternated between senses of weightless hanging, as if she was draped over a large object, and a heavy walk with her hands behind her, dragging the imagined object forward. This seemed to illustrate both dependence and burden – a juxtaposition between the love of dance and the tremendous toll it takes both physically and emotionally. The final solo, performed by Jo Wenger, showed an emergent dancer beginning her professional career. It was bright and expectant, and the movement communicated both excitement as well as the insecurities associated with moving from a student to a professional.

With each solo the lighting changed to illuminate a small space that each dancer performed in, and there were transitions between the movement of one dancer and the next solo, where the musicians changed places. The music was somewhat varied in that sometimes there was voice accompanying the accordion and fiddle score, however the songs all ran together, which gave a nice sense of continuation but also became a bit monotonous. The transitions themselves seemed a bit of an afterthought, and the only memorable interaction between any of the dancers was a short mirroring duet between Jo Wenger and Lauren Potter.

The second piece, Badlands by Robert Clark, was incredibly different. Two dancers take the stage, Jake Ingram-Dodd and Victoria Hoyland, to act out an interestingly odd and tangential love story. Hoyland, in a 50s-style dress, shoes and white gloves, begins by telling the audience it is a love story, though a pretend one – because she says, they’re not really in love in real life. Yet despite this the two embark on a wandering journey to find this perfect love story, though admittedly it goes awry. While Badlands initially seems like a fairly straightforward storyline, the piece never goes the way you’d hoped or expected, for better or for worse.

A three-minute kissing section, a rendition of the Everly Brothers’ All I have to do is Dream by dancer Ingram-Dodd, and a segment reminiscent of the child-eating monster in Pan’s Labyrinth are only a few of the unexpected choices made by Clark and cast. Though these elements are interesting in their distinctiveness, they were often drawn out to the point of discomfort and even loss of interest. What was fascinating is how all these elements were connected and transitioned. Clark was able to knit together diverse elements into one storyline, which was a coherent piece as a whole, instead of a disjointed mosaic. While Badlands might not be for everyone, both the dancers and Robert Clark were dedicated to the work and clear in their intentions.

Overall the start to this year’s Spring Loaded was a mixed show that underlines the diversity of choreography here in the UK. In Long Walk Home Darren Ellis, the dancers and the musicians created four portraits of dancers in different stages of their lives, and in Badlands two dancers struggle to tell a love story with some much unexpected cultural references. Both are very different, but both made for an enjoyably diverse evening of work.