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Adventures in Film: Nostos, Little Grasses, Checkmate

Tasha Chu, Anjali Mehra, Monique Jonas
New Adventures / Tea Films
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Adventures in Film choreographers

In a year that has starved emerging artists of oxygen to air new work, it’s heartening to experience Matthew Bourne’s Adventures in Film series as a response to the pandemic, even if creative results are still experimental in terms of using digital film as narrative dance art.

The dance theatre company was quick off the mark to respond to theatre closures by releasing three short films from three female choreographers who use inventive movement patterns enhanced by film techniques to impart stories that may otherwise not have seen the light of day.

Nostos, the first to be aired consecutively over three weeks, is a seven-minute short featuring a couple exploring conflict and it’s aftermath. Choreographed by Tashu Chu, the piece investigates a relationship between a female army recruit and her partner that appears to be falling apart at the seams.

Backed by a rousing score from Chelsea McGough, the couple are transported to a warehouse where dancers Seren Williams and Mark Samaras perform solo pieces that wind and weave in and out of duets and around war-battered architecture supporting their conflict. Williams draws on contemporary dance while Samaras is more balletic, framed and set beautifully against the mysterious odd building playing on light and dark, windows, shadows and space.

It’s a strange film, but oddly compelling as movement compassionately communicates grief, love and loss, wrapped around a decaying relationship, even if it’s sometimes unclear where the narrative flow is leading the viewer.

Anjali Mehra’s Little Grasses Crack Through Stone, available from November 27, draws inspiration from a Sylvia Plath radio play. The eight-minute film shifts between black and white film-noiresque mystery to bursts of colour, memorably red, exploring themes of pregnancy, reproduction and miscarriage. Three dancers—Charlie Broom, Cordelia Braithwaite and Estela Merlos—lie on the floor with heads drawn close together. Viewers look down upon the trio from an arial view, as they create circular gestures with arms and hands forming a human kaleidoscope.

The camera pans close up to the dancers’ hands, faces, introducing rubbing gestures and lots of gesticulating as metaphors for distress that eventually move down the body to focus on the stomach. Stomachs are a feature of all choreographic intention throughout the rest of the film.

Then there are surreal set-ups from fully clad bath shots to beautiful white rooms overlooking picture windows with swaying trees, while two masked dancers sit in the corner watching a baby being rocked. Such rich visual language makes it hard at times to focus on the purity and beauty of movement-making, detracting from, rather than enhancing, the choreography.

The final dance film, Checkmate, to be released on December 4, is choreographed by Monique Jonas and entitled "Two paths… one truth one man’s journey into the shadows" and features a dancer chased down by a headless, black-clad figure, resembling a still from Return of the Living Dead.

Jonas’s work is set in a nebulous industrial space with the paint peeling and an air of foreboding rippling through the empty corridors of the mirrored spaces. Dancers Rhys Dennis and Ihsaan De Banya perform convincingly, twisting, writhing and gyrating through complex movement sequences. Jonas creates the impression of limbs contorting, contracting and controlled by a greater force. Perhaps the headless chess piece that drags around shrouded in black tormenting the other is a step too far in terms of creating a believable cinematic scenario, but as dance theatre, it’s beautiful and spooky to watch the body’s capability of metamorphosis.

Reviewer: Rachel Nouchi