It is not unusual for a dance performance to explore the intricacies of human relationships, but it is not often that we get to witness a relationship replete with shared memories and genes. Saffy Setohy's duet choreographed on a mother and son, Lois Taylor and Jake Taylor-Bruce, shows the tender and supportive connection of family. A quiet and poignant work, Unexpected Animal has moments of real beauty but feels almost too harmonious at times. The duet is shown alongside a short film, Kindling, that places the pair in the sun-bleached Cornish landscape of home life.

Unexpected Animal and Kindling © Saffy Setohy
Unexpected Animal and Kindling
© Saffy Setohy

Unexpected Animal opens peacefully with the pair standing eyes closed, clasping each other's wrists and gently swaying to a soundscape of waves. Tracing looping patterns on the floor, they walk and run  tentatively around the space. They support each other through this blind, spiralling landscape they are creating, daring each other to take the next arc just a little larger than the last. Coming to a natural stop with eyes finally open, the pair embrace in a series of half-hugs, not touching but surrounding each other with arms and awkward affection. In this particular moment, watching two generations dance together becomes very engaging, as their bodies tell such different stories. Lois is relaxed with a quiet but confident presence, every movement considered and executed with precision. Jake appears stiff and slightly uncomfortable, hinting at a tension between the childlike need for his mother, and his growing independence.

This awkwardness brought humour to the work, increased by the occasional wry smile and sense of a private joke going on just under the surface. The pair play games of trapping hands and treading on feet, a moment when the connection between the two felt much more genuine than at other more serious points. This brief moment of quirky and playful movement brought a bit of levity to the piece, something that could have been extended further and definitely seemed missing in other moments of the duet.

Unexpected Animal and Kindling © Saffy Setohy
Unexpected Animal and Kindling
© Saffy Setohy

One of the more powerful and choreographically engaging sections is a solo by Jake, where he performs spurts of athletic movement interspersed with lying, spread-eagled and staring blankly at the ceiling. Through this solo Jake becomes the animal of the title. He pads apelike on fists and feet, learning to walk and at times fly through the air with this new adult body, only to collapse with the exhaustion of an adolescent stretched in so many directions. Shedding the awkward physicality of the opening, he moves with an easy fluidity and strength, coupled with a gentleness of presence seemingly inherited from his mother. There's a sense of excitement watching this young dancer start to fulfil his potential; it is a shame that, once rejoined by his mother, the athletics give way once again to a slower and more careful pace that feels more frustrating after a glimpse of his abilities.

The short film Kindling shows much of the same movement, navigated through rocky but verdant Cornish countryside. Filmed with the intimacy of a hazy holiday video, the pair gambol and clamber over rocks, inspecting their surroundings and basking in sunshine. The voice of Lois intones, “You brought me lizards and strange insects … you're a mythical beast”. There is a childlike wonder in her words that seems to explain the tentative, searching quality in her movements.

Kindling brings together more aspects of the pair's common experiences and feels more truthful in how they relate to each other and their environment. Some lovely outdoor improvisation is enhanced with inventive camera angles, and as a result their slightly off-kilter world feels much more enticing on screen.

While the evening's work at times left me feeling a little frustrated, perhaps that is unavoidable in examining a relationship in this manner. Every human relationship is unique and complex; showing Jake and Lois calmly negotiate their world might well be a true reflection of their dynamic. Having that alone laid bare was a privilege to watch.