Russell Maliphant
Russell Maliphant Dance Company
Dance City, Newcastle

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'Hero' image Edd Arnold Credit: Roswitha Chesher
Charlie Brittain Credit: Roswitha Chesher
Edd Arnold Credit: Roswitha Chesher

Award winning Russell Maliphant Dance Company (RMDC) returned to Dance City, Newcastle last night to perform their latest, stunning work Vortex.

Vortex is inspired by the work of abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock; Pollock, an American, is known for his dynamic approach to making work, where canvases were placed on the floor and he dripped, splashed and threw paint. Abstract expressionism is a post-Second World War movement.

Russell Maliphant said, “the work of Jackson Pollock had made a lasting impression on me since the first time I encountered it many years ago. I saw certain similarities in the approach to painting and energy that might sometimes be experienced in dance and movement tasks for improvisation and instantaneous composition in performance.”

The piece opens with a canvas-like wall far downstage with a figure moving quietly, appearing to paint using long, sweeping arm gestures. The lighting by Ryan Stafford glows softly, the music by Katya Richardson is also quiet. The movement builds, a second figure appears who’s half-hidden behind the wall, almost as if he is the painting itself that emerges.

The wall shifts back, opening up the stage and more dancers emerge, circling and developing, quietly dynamic, often floor-based, gorgeous fluid and connected movement. The use of unison is highly sensitive as the five dancers in gender neutral costumes by Stevie Stewart never dance exactly the same movements, keeping their individuality whilst moving very much together.

The different sections investigate different ideas; sometimes Pollock-like sweeps of projections flood the stage or move forward and back in a band immersing the dancers in painterly stripes and colours. There is a section with a bucket that revolving and traverses the stage, caught by first one then another dancer. The wall comes into play more strongly and is manipulated by the dancers themselves.

The first half ends with a truly breathtaking duet by Alex Thirle and Charlie Brittain on the steeply tilted wall, performed to quietly intense, romantic piano music. Their rising and falling and shifting is exquisite and often unexpected.

The second half starts with a single dancer working with an inverted ‘paint’ bottle, which turns out to be very fine sand that falls as the container swings round and above performer Paris Crossley as she plays with it.

The use of the wall becomes more dynamic and challenging for the dancers, but it’s never too much. There’s also a duet where the dancers hold a huge, freely floating gauze and the projections in red-orange hues shift and change as the dancers move. The final image of the evening is rather like the opening image and returns us the essence of the idea.

This is an extraordinary company founded by Maliphant in 1996 after his own highly prestigious dance career; the dance language is original and thoughtful, evolved through years of experimentation with ways of moving. The choreography is musical and the three forms, light, music and movement, are interwoven, without any one form being dominant.

Maliphant uses improvisation to create work, describing it as an approach rather than a technique; the diverse dancers are excellent. Vortex is refreshingly long and includes an interval, allowing for the many images to settle a little before the second half. What a joy for RMDC to visit after so long—let’s hope they come back soon!

Vortex continues at artsdepot, London on 29 June.

Reviewer: Dora Frankel

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