maliphantworks3: The Space Between / Films One & Two / Duet

Choreography and direction Russell Maliphant
Russell Maliphant Dance Company
The Coronet Theatre
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Russell Maliphant’s work builds on what has come before, variations on variations, familiar tropes seen many times, but what a breathtaking evolution of last year’s Silent Lines at Sadler’s Wells The Space Between is.

Same team: Stevie Stewart’s loose costumes as canvas for Panagiotis Tomaras’s dominant video design, but this time it is for two dancers not five. The dynamic of the new work, The Space Between, is different, if on the same lines, minimal, it holds worlds in its reach.

The couple liquefying before our eyes are the choreographer himself and his life partner Dana Fouras (credited with the sound design). Imagine that instinctive rapport honed over many years. I am told this is Fouras’s last outing with the company, though apparently she is not retiring yet. So a special and poignant occasion for all...

Tomaras’s video projections rippling over side stage panels suggest ancient Greek architecture, Atlantis perhaps, reflections of water playing on old stones. On two stones centre-stage, but lo, they move. What are they? Faces obscured by projections, are they sea creatures rising from the primordial soup? Ghostly, ethereal, translucent, they move with a distilled deliberateness.

Optical delusory lighting (Tomaras and Maliphant), now a flowing river, now batik swirls and woodcut furrows across the floor: is she Amphitrite or one of the Nereids? ‘Jackson Pollock’ splashes merge their bodies with the bare stage—what matter are they made of, dissolving in front of our eyes, solid air? What dimension are they in?

Movement is ground-based, t’ai chi inspired, repetitive, molecular, contact work effortless. Have they magically stepped off a Greek frieze, these supernatural creatures? She seems to be evolving into a temple dancer; he has the look of a Buddhist monk. He fades away; she has her moment; he steps back for his solo.

Playing in the restless spumes of the sea. Next on dry land in rectangles of space, light refracting off their arms. There’s something mysterious, Tarkovskian sublime, in this shifting terrain, in the interrogation of space. Half an hour flies by.

Two five-minute black and white art films (made in collaboration with Julian Broad) follow: Film One for Fouras, Film Two for Maliphant. The Coronet was once a cinema after all, now its shabby chicness, its stripped-back to the bare bones aesthetic, is a perfect backdrop for them both. Memories of past performances its apposite legacy...

Fouras, to Rachmaninov’s Prelude in C Sharp Minor, swirling, spinning (lovely feet) in petal sleeves and trousers is a cross between Isadora Duncan and Loie Fuller—leafy fronds, foliage, caught in the drift of the sea. For a brief irreverent moment I think vintage Sandeman port advert, as she stands poised in black cape. And Lottie Reiniger silhouettes…

Maliphant, on the other hand, brings something of the circus to his turn. Caught on what looks like a long rubber resistance band—rubber body cradled on a rubber leash—he brings aerial dance close to the ground, barely defying gravity. And it is beautiful. Stunning, kinetic sculpture—one can never escape that word when describing Maliphant’s seeming obsession with spatial awareness and the body’s trajectory in space.

Happy to have seen Film Two, I am even happier to see Duet again. A 2018 piece that saw them perform together on the London stage for the first time in 15 years. I don't think I can better what I wrote then: “together since 1994, he now in his mid-fifties, she late forties, the fourteen-minute Duet feels like a reaffirmation of vows”.

Donizetti’s lovers from L’elisir d’amore, now in middle age, remember that moment, the early bloom of love, and reminisce in touching physical dialogue. To a sound score that includes scratchy film dialogue (I imagine a Fellini film, or Pierrot and Columbine captured in a private moment) and a vintage recording of Enrico Caruso singing Una Furtiva Lacrima—she loves me!

The wonder of that sudden realisation is translated into mature quietude and intimacy. Again the contact work is meticulous and the lifts astonishing. They have lived and loved. The shadows lengthen and the lights dim. Scalp tingling.

Reviewer: Vera Liber