A thematic obsession dominates the work of Russell Maliphant. His choreography is driven by an academic fascination with the biomolecular structure of the body in movement. It is an ongoing inquiry that began as a badly-injured student at The Royal Ballet School (Maliphant feared that he would never again be able to raise his arm above shoulder level) and was developed through qualification as a Rolfing practitioner and onto his current research towards a PhD. This major theme of articulating the science of dance has run parallel with the exploration of how light reacting to form emphasises the spectacle of movement. As much, if not more, than any other choreographer, Maliphant creates dance as art that moves.

Grace Jabbari in <i>Silent Lines</i> © Martin Collins
Grace Jabbari in Silent Lines
© Martin Collins

The title of this latest episode, Silent Lines, epitomises Maliphant’s compulsive study of fascia, the layers of integrated tissue attached to, enclosing and separating muscles. Fascial patterns are “silent lines” that not only exist under our skin but are also replicated throughout the natural world – in the vascular structure of a leaf or the branches of a tree, for example – and also as connections in the well-ordered patterns of the cosmos. Maliphant has looked under the skin to discover another world.

The mesmeric beauty of this work is heightened by sensational lighting and imposing video projections that are mind-boggling in their technical accuracy. Maliphant shares a credit for the former with the man who is responsible for the latter and, for once, it is not Michael Hulls (hitherto Maliphant’s go-to lighting designer). Step forward Panagiotis Tomaras, an Athenian video and light artist, whose projections seamlessly adhere to the bodies of the five dancers, staying fixed to their targets despite their range of movement, as if the light has taken on the form of a sticky substance. The intent is to externalise the silent lines of the fascial movement inside the body, achieving a textural aesthetic that is both precise and surreal: the dancers appear as alien gods and goddesses, their bodies shimmering with kaleidoscopic diamond patterns of chimeric imagery. Stevie Stewart’s costume design is a key enabler of this extraordinary impact.

Alethia Antonia, Will Thompson, Edd Arnold, Grace Jabbari and Moronfoluwa Odimayo in <i>Silent Lines</i> © Martin Collins
Alethia Antonia, Will Thompson, Edd Arnold, Grace Jabbari and Moronfoluwa Odimayo in Silent Lines
© Martin Collins

Further enhancement of this magical hour was assured through a beguiling, sensual soundscape that fits the visual landscape so completely. Curated by Dana Fouras, the score is a melting pot of pleasing contradictions engineered into a rich aural tapestry that incorporates throbbing drum beats and ethereal extracts from Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto. Fouras has mixed a bespoke composite, part-rave and part-concert hall with occasional echoes from a 1930s nightclub dance band. It is stylistically diverse, free-flowing, and yet solidly holistic.

Sitting within this well-mixed collaborative envelope, the elegance of Maliphant’s unhurried, fluid movement consistently conveys a profound sculptural quality. One imagines that the hour-long spectacle can be disaggregated into thousands of consecutive still images, each as beautiful and momentous as the one before. It is, however, a project that could easily have become stale, a triumph of style over substance, dulled by the overwhelming background darkness (which brought its own challenges) and the narrowness of its abstract influences. But Maliphant is too astute a director to allow such a loss of momentum and he regularly changes direction and mixes sequences, shuffling the hand of five dancers’ into their various permutations and using the light projections sparingly to emphasise their stunning impact. Another director could easily have overplayed these atmospheric effects and diminished the overall impression.

Will Thompson, Moronfoluwa Odimayo and Alethia Antonia in <i>Silent Lines</i> © Martin Collins
Will Thompson, Moronfoluwa Odimayo and Alethia Antonia in Silent Lines
© Martin Collins

The unique textural quality of the work depended upon the dancers’ command of this special movement language: a coordinated capacity for close control and mutual trust; for elegance and stretch; to be able to turn endlessly and seemingly without effort; and above all else to dance with an aura that is both disciplined and liberated. For much of the work, the dancers are largely anonymous due to the unrelenting darkness and video projections that obscured their features. Grace Jabbari is the first to break cover in a memorable, absorbing solo, spiralling gracefully within a pool of downward light with its obvious flashbacks to Maliphant’s earlier works (such as Two and AfterLight). These performers were the golden thread that pulled all of the precious elements together.

Silent Lines is such an emphatic study of fascial influence and the other elements affecting human movement that it seems to bring Maliphant’s preoccupation to a defining full stop, as if being the practical articulation in dance of the academic research that will soon bring him that doctorate. One wonders where Maliphant can go next with these parallel studies in dance, although I’m quite certain that this choreographic exploration of the unseen activity within our bodies is still far from his final frontier.

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