In spite of the choreographer’s injury, Russell Maliphant Company put on an engaging display of artistry during their recent engagement at the Joyce Theatre here in New York. Presented under the unifying title Still Current, the evening included several shorter solos and duets, ranging from older repertory to newer works. It felt like a retrospective of sorts, tracing the development of Maliphant’s movement language, as well as the progression of his interest in a well-integrated use of lighting in his choreography, in collaboration with his long-time designer Michael Hulls.

© Hugo Glendinning
© Hugo Glendinning

The audience is launched into Maliphant’s stage imagery with a short, powerful duet Critical Mass, which opened with two men partnering each other in extremely fluid, slow movement, confined within a sharply delineated square of light. The work read like a choreographic etude of sorts, and a compelling one at that: a study in which a finite vocabulary of movement phrases and gestural accents was continuously repurposed and remixed, including variations in phrase, speed and rhythm. Performed with impressive focus and grace by company members Thomasin Gülgeç and Dickson Mbi, the two interconnected bodies at times looked like constantly shifting fractal animations in a computer simulation. Next up, the company presented Two, an early work Maliphant had originally set on his partner Dana Fouras. Performed here with beautiful precision by Carys Staton, the work felt as vibrant as when I had first seen it in London several years ago. Opening with the lone dancer confined within a square of light, Two is a tightly-knit, painterly study of body shapes and their relationship to light. The work builds steadily, beginning with slow, deliberate shapes and culminating in percussive movement which is, towards the end, illuminated solely by the square of light on the stage floor, now completely dark in the middle, with only a thin outline still visible as it is occasionally pierced by the dancer’s flinging limbs.

Both featuring animated video projections on the stage floor, the next two works showcased a new direction in Maliphant’s career-long interest in exploring the relationship between choreography and lighting, with uneven results. While the first, Still, felt overwhelmed by the monotonously flickering linear patterns that filled the stage floor in its entirety, the subsequent piece, Afterlight (Part One), stood out as a masterly miniature. Buoyed by a captivating, sensitive performance by Thomasin Gülgeç, and accompanied by Eric Satie’s meditative Gnossiennes 1-4, the cloud-like imagery illuminated the lone figure on the stage, interacting with his spiraling movements across the floor for the duration of the piece, to a spellbinding effect.

© Hugo Glendinning
© Hugo Glendinning
While clearly referencing Maliphant’s Still, the evening’s final work, Still Current, felt much closer in form to the evening’s first duet (Critical Mass), and, to some extent, to his iconic solo, Two. Initially exploring the movement of two intertwined, craning bodies contained within a square-shaped pool of light, Still Current powerfully evolved into two simultaneous solos (featuring Staton and the guest performer Marlon Dino, replacing Maliphant himself) as the two figures burst from each other’s grip into their own squares of light.