Lilian Baylis Studio
Reviewed – 6th June 2019
“some moments are hypnotically step-perfect but others feel confused”
Let’s be real: contemporary dance can be hard. Appreciation of it can rely on interpreting unspoken languages that baffle the uninitiated; those in the know can decode it, but for the rest of us it can feel terribly othering, as though on the outside of a cryptic in-joke.
I’d love to say that this piece by emerging contemporary dance superstars bucks this trend. And there are moments of comfort and sweetness; lights soften, a dog potters into the space and greets the audience. Costumes (Curtis Oland with masks by Damselfrau) are impactful, invoking gender-bending jesters. But for much of the night, this is contemporary dance at its most alienating.
The concepts are beguiling, although the artspeak in the programme does nothing to draw us in (e.g. curator Stefan Jovanović states ‘…current research looks at the translation of systemic family constellations and somatic experiencing into dance and architecture’). Part masque, part artwork, part ritual and part village fête (we’re encouraged to attend the ‘Fool’s Market’ (set design Jack Hardy) during the interval to peruse artisanal pieces used in the performance), we’re told that ‘we’re living in a time of need of new rituals for coming together, to affect (sic?) change, to heal’ and ‘it is about sacred spaces and sacred times, the rekindling of community’. Hard to argue with that. But given its lofty intentions, I wonder who this performance is for. Perhaps many members of the very white, often more mature audience are experienced enough consumers of dance to take the more challenging set pieces in their stride (two dancers roaming the stage barking like dogs for minutes on end, anyone?), but for those less immersed these scenes can feel impossibly long and downright baffling.
This is a shame, as there are powerful moments and no shortage of impressive physicality on display. It’s hard not to feel as though the night revolves around Pau Aran Gimeno, whose movement is easily the most entrancing and whose narratives are some of the more accessible. A scene of shamanic ritual, set to a pulsing drumbeat (composer Domenico Angarano), is one of the most compelling, and the swirling metal orb suspended over the stage (created by one of the craftspeople on display) is an effective staging moment. Dancers writhe around more metal structures throughout, and these too promise mesmeric flashes – until occasionally a performer thunks awkwardly against one and the spell is broken. This reflects another issue with the night; some moments are hypnotically step-perfect but others feel confused.
There are also interactions with audience members: more awkwardness. Many of these offer up moments of tenderness; to its credit, this is not a production intended to embarrass its attendees. But the informality of these interactions is also distracting; one game volunteer squeaked ‘what am I supposed to DO??!’ as she teetered on a metal wheel. Indeed.
Dance – nay, any piece of art – doesn’t need to be literal, of course it doesn’t, and in a piece dedicated to carving out ‘a space that is both familiar and strange’ it’s right and to be expected that discomfiture will feature. It just feels as though Constellations, with its promise of humour and warmth, takes fragmentation just a step too far.
Reviewed by Abi Davies
Photography by Camilla Greenwell
Lilian Baylis Studio until 6th June
Last ten Sadler’s Wells shows reviewed: