Originally created in 2010 for the inaugural UK Young Artists showcase in Derby, Matters of Life and Death is choreographer Katie Green’s eighth, and most substantial, work to date. Appearing here in its London premiere, the hour-long piece takes Graham Swift’s unsettling novel Waterland as its inspiration, in particular a scene in which four characters find a drowned body in a sluice and how this fatal discovery reverberates through their own lives.
Opening with a sequence performed in near-darkness, in which flashes of physical forms and suggestions of action are picked out by torchlight, Matters of Life and Death plays with the visual and the cinematic throughout its duration. The body discovered, a panicked Daniela Larsen is first on the scene, fretting and casting about herself for assistance. She is joined by three helpers, who hoist Adam Kirkham’s body from the water; just as it seems we have the measure of the skittish Larsen, and a more dispassionate Rebecca Yates, the scene rewinds and we view again from another character’s perspective. With clever wrapping and reversing, Green’s choreography makes visible the conflicting narratives of multiple narrators.
One might imagine a corpse would have little to do, but Kirkham’s body becomes animated in a series of flashback and dream sequences that illustrate his impact on the other characters. Marie Chabert seems to feel weighed down with guilt after the discovery, the world pressing in on her and Kirkham’s carcass heavy on her lap. Larsen fears the body reanimating and making erotic advances on her, ending in her own strangulation; Morgan Cloud imagines instead some kind of brotherly communion. The grim situation pushes all four into a frenzied whirl, bodies pushed off-kilter as lives are unbalanced by the discovery.
Max Perryment’s electronic soundscore is a superbly atmospheric accompaniment to the work; much like Green’s choreography, it’s evocative without being obvious. Green’s five agile dancers make nimble work of the emotional twists and turns, and keep the piece both enjoyably physical and admirably legible. The disquieting subject matter and troubled characters leave little room here for levity; dark as it is, Matters of Life and Death is an accomplished and highly watchable piece of dance theatre.