What’s in a quote? Would a dance by any other name smell as sweet, or sound as clever? That seems to be the question posed presented by Tuesday’s triptych of new works, all three containing literary-philosophical allusions in their titles and programme notes. From Plato to the cult novelist Neal Stephenson, Tuesday’s Resolution! claimed a variety of highbrow heritages.
James Wilton’s star is very much in the ascendant at the moment – after winning the Blueprint Bursary for young choreographers in 2009, he beat off worldwide competition to win the Global Dance Contest last November. Clearly not one to rest on his laurels, Wilton has followed up his winning piece, The Shortest Day with new work Cave, based on Plato’s famous allegory of slaves living in a darkened cave gradually learning that perception is not the same as reality.
Cave begins with a floorbound solo, a female dancer rolling and flipping from side to side as she explores the surfaces directly in front of her. Gradually other figures enter, sliding across the stage on hands and knees, bound to the space around them. As the piece develops, ideas of perception are explored through weight and touch – dancers’ arms roll around one another at increasing speed, and bodies suspend inverted only to discover their own weight and come crashing decisively to the floor. The piece builds to a thrilling finale, dancers leaping over one another as they challenge their new-found gravity.
Although Wilton’s style is release-based, with frequent excursions to the floor, it’s reminiscent of Richard Alston’s work in fluid connection of one shape to another, the specificity of dynamic control and precision in the timing. Wilton’s previous works have had an accessible and infectious energy; Cave reveals a greater clarity and thoughtfulness from this promising young choreographer.
Laura McGill’s Palimpsest had a quieter, more contemplative mood. Set to a lively harpsichord suite and apparently inspired by a quote from Jeanette Winterson, the trio looks at the body as a palimpsest, “an instrument to be rewritten on”. Each of the three dancers writes and re-writes their own movement phrase: outlining the space, dropping from an elbow and crumbling inwards, pacing out an urgent rhythm on the floor. As the three dancers come into contact with one another in different relationships, the three phrases take on different readings. It’s a simple construction that works well here, resulting in a gently playful piece.
Richard Bermage’s neoclassical Virus examines ideas of viral transmission –the way ideas like jokes, urban legends and ideologies spread through populations. Movement passes between the seven dancers like an infection, self-replicating into unison and repetition, one couple picking up another pair’s sequence and multiplying it over the stage. The basic idea of replication, amplified by the use of hooded costumes to show who might be “infected” at any given point in the choreography, is readable enough, and the material is sweetly perky with lots of Balanchine-esque swivelling hips and light doublework.
Into this vision of a replicating idea creeps a narrative about love and jealousy. Couples swap partners, and an ecstatic phrase with high split lifts ends with the boy walking out on the girl, leaving her abandoned in a cold spotlight on the stage floor. Dancer Kumiko Nakamura looks appropriately wretched at this abandonment, but it’s unclear how this episode corresponds to the viral theme; rejection might be part of what a host does to an unwelcome virus, but the central idea of self-replication seems lost.
It’s unwise to set too much store by programme notes, of course – I know of artists that don’t write their own, and critics that (perhaps wisely) refuse to read them. But if there’s a note given in the programme, it’s always tempting to try to find an insight into the dance product nestling among those intriguing quotations. On Tuesday’s evidence, Wilton’s piece most fully realised his literary source material; which is not to imply a failure in the other two works, only a lighter and looser relationship with their inspirations. But would the dance smell as sweet or look as good without? I think it might.