Ballet Nights Spotlight - IMAGO

Choreography Pett | Clausen-Knight, music Sean Pett
Lanterns Studio Theatre, Canary Wharf

Pett / Clausen-Knight in IMAGO Credit: Deborah Jaffe
Pett / Clausen-Knight in IMAGO Credit: Alessandro Boticelli
Pett / Clausen-Knight in IMAGO Credit: Deborah Jaffe
Pett / Clausen-Knight in IMAGO Credit: Deborah Jaffe
Pett / Clausen-Knight in IMAGO Credit: Umberto Favretto
Pett / Clausen-Knight in IMAGO Credit: Deborah Jaffe
Pett / Clausen-Knight in IMAGO Credit: Alessandro Boticelli
Pett / Clausen-Knight in IMAGO Credit: Alessandro Boticelli

James Pett and Travis Clausen-Knight, formerly with Company Wayne McGregor, are terrific dancers, with beautiful fluid technique. I’ve seen them twice—at Ballet Icons Gala 2024 (Mercy Duet) and here at Lantern Studios (Nerve Wire)—and want to see more.

Here they are in their trademark black suits and white shirts with ‘more’: sixty minutes ‘more’, in twelve chapters they say, which makes each section five minutes. Frankly, it all flows in a stream of consciousness, a rollercoaster ride of emotional vicissitudes as is normal in any relationship. But what can we know of each other? Even in long partnerships, individuals can ultimately be hard to read.

Programme notes explain that IMAGO is a philosophical reflection on relationships: a poetic investigation into human nature. Add to that ‘the language of flowers’—I think Ophelia, and the Victorians with their bouquets speaking above and beyond words—the mystery of nature and nurture.

I also think Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1526–1593) and his vegetable, fruit, flowers portraits when James’s face is masked in blooms. Is he channelling a geisha, too, I wonder? The mind wanders, seeking metaphors… Is conciliation two equal roses in a vase? Or is resting your partner on a pedestal, as James does with Travis for a moment of relief?

Accompanied superlatively by Adriana Cristea on violin, Sean Pett’s (brother of James) musical composition, ambient electronica, sonorous chords, strong beats mixed with Vivaldi and live piano, is the organic motivation. The musicians open the concert in musical duet and close the evening on a high as a quartet in accord with the dancers—the best section.

In between, we have the dancers spinning, sulking, rejecting, loving, ignoring and in wonderful supportive duets. White plinths are brought on one by one throughout the drama until there are five, each with a bouquet in a vase—actually, one doesn't have a vase. Manet’s paintings of flowers made flesh, so to speak.

Flowers spill on the floor, flowers decorate the mesh on James’s face. The most poignant is the vase with one rose and one calla lily. Is that significant? Representing the differences in personality? I search and find calla lilies are associated with lust, jealousy, rebirth and resurrection, yet the plant is toxic. Make of that what you will: the audience can’t read their minds, only surmise.

Luckily, I have their Q & A transcript in which James reveals, “IMAGO looks at the human condition as seen from the perspective of hidden dysfunctions in relationships. The toxic natures that we are all capable of exhibiting are represented through the floral symbolism we’ve created. Some of the flowers are arranged in bouquets, which are placed on five white pillars on the stage. They create ever-changing visual architectures as Travis and I navigate our interactions.”

And, I might add, give them breathing space as they shift the arrangements. Travis says, “we started to make IMAGO after the first lockdown in 2020. We were inspired by two vintage books called The Language of Flowers to include flowers in our work in a symbolic way.”

James adds, ”IMAGO features 12 chapters—each one with a different musical score. Sean has created pockets of music to illustrate the various themes such as mistrust, or alienation.”

Sean’s music is eloquent in its harmonies and dissonances. As are the dancers’ moves if we can decode them—the face and body are so revealing, in their case especially their bodies. One can often say more with gesture than embarrassing, awkward words. And they are mesmerising to watch. I’ve had a hectic journey and, I must confess, paradoxically, the evening is soothing.

Enigmatic solos and complex duets, seductive, earnest, moody, they complement each other, two bodies in tune even in conflict, their drama represented in the music. Is that a minuet I hear, the calm before the storm? Baroque and digital music mesh well. IMAGO ends as it began: life is circular…

Formed in 2019, the duo premièred IMAGO in Italy in November 2022—they have toured Italy, Germany and Japan—tonight is their UK première. The piece tours the UK later this year and in 2025.

Reviewer: Vera Liber

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