Russell Maliphant presented five stunning works as part of his Still Current at Sadler's Wells this weekend.

© Hugh Glendenning
© Hugh Glendenning
Working in collaboration with his lighting designer, Michael Hulls, Maliphant believes that movement and light combine to create a whole that is more powerful than either alone. This enables the audience to have a central focus from which to expand imaginatively. It is extremely difficult to achieve this.

His first offering was Still, danced by Dickson Mbi. This fusion of light and movement – just the right amount of movement – was as if an Op Art painting had turned into a performance. At one point, the Op Art effect gave way to a flicker, like an old film. The eyes were drawn to the human figure at the centre whose solidity and slower pace anchored the mind. There was a contrasting moment when the dancer moved and the light was still.

Traces drew upon Maliphant's interest in capoeira, a Brazilian martial arts form incorporating acrobatics and dance. This wasn't immediately evident, as the first performer entered the stage carrying a cane, accompanied by, perhaps, church bells chiming rhythmically. Was this a blind man feeling his way? The tempo began to build as a second and third man both entered with canes. The dance was transformed into a martial display as the three did the same movements in unison, and the church peeling mutated into a pulsating crescendo. There are many ways to explore three bodies dancing: if each does different steps simultaneously, the effect can be fugal or, in less accomplished hands, visually confusing.

Maliphant knows that as a choreographer, the movements must suit the body of the dancer, but each body will change the meaning of the dance. He has worked with Sylvie Guillem previously and now works with Carys Staton. In Two, Carys Staton is enclosed in a box of light and her long, rounded movements fill the space. I thought that Sylvie Guillem's angular movements made the box feel like a prison cell, whereas Carys's offered a contrast between circle and square.

Still Current © Hugh Glendenning
Still Current
© Hugh Glendenning

In Afterlight, Thomasin Gulgec performed with senstivity to the music of Satie. The curtain lifted with a man seeming to rotate in a circle of light. It was inevitable that the circle would expand and contract. Maliphant's choreography particularly explored a dancer's relationship with music. The performer can dance to the music, he can dance in counterpoint to the music, or the dancer can continue beyond the music, with the dance and music existing as separate entities. Maliphant's work showed restraint, and even patience, in allowing the movement to evolve.

Finally, Still Current with Maliphant and Staton is informed by contact improvisation. Once the two bodies met, they explored the physical possibilities of two as one. This was a sculptural composition which fulfilled its potential for development. At one point, both partners appeared to float on magic carpets of light. 

In the wider context of choreographers who use multimedia, such as Akram Khan and Wayne MacGregor, Maliphant’s compositions stand out because the audio­ visual elements are woven into the dance fabric, without loosing the thread.