The Lowry, Salford
According to the poet, Webster saw the skull beneath the skin. Less poetically, director and choreographer Russell Maliphant is concerned with the fascia, the subdermal tissue beneath the skin, rather than the skeleton. Maliphant‘s latest production, Silent Lines, is, therefore, a merger between art and science and makes extensive use of technological, as well as dance, innovations.
It is possible, however, to exaggerate the way in which Maliphant makes his interest in biology apparent on stage. The proportion of Silent Lines in which Maliphant’s interest becomes overt is actually small. The show opens and closes with the troupe (Alethia Antonia, Edd ArnoldSilen, Grace Jabbari, Folu Odimayo and William Thompson) transformed into an eerie spectacle whereby Panagiotis Tomaras’s video designs projected onto their bodies gives the impression the blood and tissue pulsing under the skin is visible. Maliphant does not have to repeat the illusion to make his point: while the dancers perform, there is a bewildering series of biological impulses taking place under their skin. These silent lines are a visually striking expression of the sheer physical effort involved in dancing.
Maliphant and Tomaras collaborate on some astonishing lighting designs. The whole of Silent Lines takes place in a dark environment with the dancers stepping in and out of shadows. Projections onto the stage floor create the impression of rippling pools of light. So a pair of lovers, seated separately, becomes unexpectedly able to bridge the darkness and dance in the light. The overall effect is that of the troupe splashing between areas of light and darkness—an intoxicating mixture of menace and freedom.
Like a cheeky magician, Maliphant is not above using the extreme lighting in a sleight of hand manner. The twilight environment creates the illusion of a soloist apparently dividing into a second dancer and later morphing into a different soloist.
There is a massive range of dance styles on display in Silent Lines. Although the theme is human biology, the gentle pastoral, opening sequence, with the dancers’ arms aloft swaying in unison, brings to mind grass blown in the wind. A seductive solo has a remarkable resemblance to a belly dance.
The common theme of the choreography is fluidity with the dancers adopting a series of poses that ought to be twisted and painful but conducted with such grace as to seem effortless and light.
Silent Lines is stunning blend of dance and technological innovation and a sharp reminder of the human effort and skill required to produce such a powerful and visually engaging show.