Two: Four: Ten

Russell Maliphant Retrospective

Spring Dance

London Coliseum

(2009)

Review by Vera Liber

A retrospective of ten years of Russell Maliphant's choreography, some first seen in small intimate spaces which suit his small-scale dances, at the Coliseum exposes his strengths and weaknesses.

Performed at The Place by The Ballet Boyz Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, then at Sadlers Wells, and then a stunning debut at the Royal Opera House with Broken Fall, Maliphant's stature and status have grown.

Collaboration with Sylvie Guillem has brought awards and a wider audience for his work - beautiful sculptural images, calm restraint, lyrical movement influenced by t'ai chi and yoga, and a partnering dynamic taken from contact improvisation and the Afro-Brazilian sparring dance capoeira.

Though classical ballet trained, Maliphant made the transition to the more exciting, for him, contemporary dance scene, dancing with DV8, Michael Clark, and Laurie Booth. Booth was a strong influence as is evident in his improvised choreography. He creates on the bodies of his dancers, their input a contributory factor in the finished product.

Michael Hulls, his long time lighting designer, is integral to the dance, as are the contemporary composers and sound designers who work with him - equal collaborators in the creative process. Indeed, Hulls and Maliphant - one can't imagine the one without the other - are a marriage made in Zen heaven.

Hulls's dark lighting, his boxing / wrestling ring squares of light, in which the dancers are framed, thankfully guide the eye away from the yawning Coliseum stage, which can shrink the performers and their performances - especially as the works shown here are either solos or duets. Chamber pieces on a too large stage.

A short evening featuring Knot (2001) an eight minute piece for two men (Ivan Putrov from the Royal Ballet, and the Argentinian Daniel Proietto); the twenty-minute Sheer (2001) showcasing the partnership of Agnes Oaks and Thomas Edur recently retired from the English National Ballet; the ten-minute Two x Two (2009), originally only Two (1998) created for his wife Dana Fouras (former Royal Ballet dancer), now partnered, if partnered is the right word, as in fact they dance in their separate squares of light, by Daniel Proietto; and the 35-minute Critical Mass (1998), danced by Adam Cooper and Maliphant himself.

Arms, circling arms, extended arms reaching to heaven, yearning arms, feet anchored in the ground as the arms draw calligraphic images. Ritualistic repetition of moves, bodies folding and unfolding, bodies as spring boards, counter-tensions, and tasselling limbs. A free flow of energy, and a delight in pure movement - reminded me of Erick Hawkins, whose technique was influenced by Zen and Haiku. Incidentally, it's the centenary of Hawkins's birth this month.

Knot, to a rhythmic Kathak dance style bols or tabla percussive beat (music by Matteo Fargion), is both intricate and simple - under downshafts of light two male dancers 'fence', deflecting each others arms, spinning, rolling, a soft stand-off never-ending capoeira.

Sheer, by contrast, is a stately balletic galliard (an improvised dance with tassel kicks). Bodies silhouetted hieroglyphics on a dusky pink background. A courtly lute-like harpsichord sound (by Sarah Sarhandi) accompanies them. The light is dim - Renaissance candlelight? A sheet of light on the back wall takes the dancers to another chamber, where the shadows lengthen. Are we in a Shakespearean drama? Is this a lovers tryst? Sheer pleasure.

The new Two x Two is more than sheer pleasure. It's short, intense, and the best number of the evening. Arms, again. In semi-darkness, again. One figure lit in her dance square. A note vibrates. A statue comes to life. A second square of light. A man lifts his arm, turns circles with his wrist, unfolds his body. They both unfold, the one the other's shadow. A deep thrum. Is this a meditation, or the sound of doom? The music gets louder. Drum and bass reverberate round the auditorium. Layered musical tracks crescendo. Dance moves repeat and repeat and repeat and grow more complex, but the dancers never move from their fixed spot. And stop. Lights out.

Critical Mass surprises in its partnership. Michael Nunn and William Trevitt were more evenly matched. Here the slight Maliphant is partnered by a bigger, bulkier Adam Cooper. It is a long piece divided into three sections, with a tango in the middle. Contact work is the basis here. Interdependency, the rough and tumble of the wrestling ring. And outer space white noise music (by Andy Cowton) alternating with heavy beats, which go on and on and on into infinity. Are they two atoms colliding in space? Or just two guys doing what they do best? They finish where they started - round and round they go... Circling planets.

P.S. Maliphant is creating a new work about Nijinsky and the Ballet Russes, which is promised for October.