Hajer Gam explores the light and dark of Russell Maliphant Company’s Conceal | Reveal
The dancers in Conceal | Reveal are beings of both lightness and darkness. Beings standing in the shadows, ready to step into the light or retreat to invisibility, at times quickly and sharply, at others languidly and statuesquely. Dancers are moulded into elusive figures by the outstanding combination of elaborate light work and architectural choreography. The four part show features creations by Russell Maliphant, the head and founder of the eponymous dance company, and lighting designer Michael Hulls.
The piece Spiral Pass opens the show. Standing in a circle of light in the middle of the stage, two dancers start moving to an obsessive sound. As other dancers gradually join them, the circle of light widens then changes, being reshaped by the interplay of light and shadow. This 30 minute set carries a taut intensity that even the dancers seem sometimes to be affected by, occasionally showing signs of nervousness. But the intricate violence underlying every movement, and leading the flow of tangled limbs to fierce moments of body-to-body choreography makes one forget such sporadic moments of clumsiness. Lucia Lacarra delivers an especially outstanding performance. Her stage partners, carrying her through countless lifts, are worth a mention too. She is a light, light thing, going minutes without touching the ground, being alternatively tossed around and held like a trophy. Generally speaking, the female dancers are the stars of the show, almost putting their partners in the shade both figuratively and literally. The scenic space is turned into their playground and shrine as the figures conjure an almost geometric velocity reminiscent of some kind of devotional routine.
In Broken Fall, the second act of the evening, the firm, confident and almost haughty silhouette of Yu Hsien Wu delivers an acrobatic performance. More energetic and self-assured than the first piece of the show, this mythic, Olivier-award winning piece more closely resembles a martial arts training than a dance performance at times. Wu relentlessly climbs, runs and twirls, pushing new scenic spaces into existence, using her partners’ bodies as supports and springboards. The movements are blunt, and the lifts virtuosic – I found myself gasping in admiration a few times as a result.
Dana Fouras is no less worthy of admiration in «both, and», which makes up the third part of the show. The choreography is less aerial in its composition than that of the preceding piece, and is more grounded in many ways: the torso and the arms move alone while the lower-body stands firmly anchored to the ground. In fact, the dancing doesn’t really seem to be the focus point of the piece, which some might find regrettable. Rather, «both, and» is better considered a convincing demonstration of technical prowess. On a screen placed on the forefront of the stage are projected giant shadows of the soloist standing at its centre. They grow and shrink, split and then unite as the light placements evolve. Fouras nonetheless rises to the challenge of single-handedly keeping the audience’s attention for over 15 minutes with mystical, although sometimes repetitive, artistry.
The final part of Conceal | Reveal embodies without a doubt the quintessence of the show’s purpose and challenges. In Piece No. 43, the stage is turned into an ever-evolving space, constantly redefined and re-circumscribed by the deft mastery of lighting from which sculpturesque figures shift in and out of, disappearing and reappearing synchronously with the light. The dancers, again, are light, light things here; they are bodies through which the light is conveyed, silhouettes waltzing with and against the lights and shadows. The stage is made a space to play hide and seek with the audience’s captivated gaze, a place for bodies to soar and withdraw, and a place one wishes would light up again after the final curtain comes down and turns the room into darkness.
It is an overall engaging, energetic and nimble show that those keen on contemporary dance, looking to see a well-rounded performance that isn’t too conceptual, will most definitely enjoy.
Conceal | Reveal is on at Sadler’s Wells till 28th November
Image credits: Hugo Glendinning and Johan Persson