Manchester-based dance troupe Company Chameleon closes its UK tour of Witness with two nights at The Lowry, bringing its new production back to its roots.
Co-artistic director Kevin Edward Turner’s semi-autobiographical work forms part of a double-bill, with an additional curtain-raiser entitled One from Chameleon Youth. Company Chameleon’s new youth dance company puts in a slick and physically demanding performance, making the most of its showcase opportunity on the Quays Theatre stage.
This five-minute piece is followed by Words Unspoken, a work choreographed by Turner and company co-director Anthony Missen for La Mov Dance Company and on its first outing in the UK. Allegedly inspired by the secrets of cast and creatives involved in the project, it’s a frenetic, violent piece for five dancers that is exhausting and uncomfortable to watch. It’s difficult to make much sense of what’s being communicated—dynamic but abstract choreography without any obvious narrative clashes with a very literal representation of four people in their underwear getting intimate.
Concluding the evening’s programme is the highly-anticipated Witness, which explores director and choreographer Turner’s experience of living with bipolar. The rough narrative arc of the piece follows Turner as he swings rapidly between two contrasting states of mind, before being committed to a psychiatric hospital. Finally, he is released and reconciled with family and friends.
Turner’s choreography is unflinchingly physical and carries an additional emotional weight, but the Company Chameleon dancers are more than up for the challenge. Moments of realism and literal movement—such as Turner’s rigidly upheld thumbs, or supportive hugs between the other characters—mingle with more conceptual movement based on tension and resistance, protection and support.
Partner work is strong across the cast, with each pair showcased not just accomplishing technically demanding lifts, but building a genuine and moving relationship between their characters. Using dancers to personify Turner’s contrasting mental states also demonstrates a high level of teamwork and synchronicity—in the opening section of the piece, Turner is manipulated like a puppet by his “negative” side. There’s a welcome touch of comedy too, with Turner’s “positive” side strutting his stuff in a solo to “Flash” by Queen, complete with disco lighting effects.
Miguel Marin’s atmospheric, specially commissioned score blends piano and other traditional instruments with a contemporary soundscape of droning and effects such as breaking ice. Voices are also used—for instance, Turner’s threatening voicemail message that plays to set the mood for a troubled duet.
However, the impact of moments such as this is diluted by the strange decision to include live dialogue in the piece. Turner’s egotistical “positive” side constantly shouts at him like a coach prepping a boxer for a big fight, and even simple verbal exchanges between characters jar with the general silence onstage. With such talented performers and expressive choreography, there’s no need to rely on anything but dance to convey the message.
This aside, Witness is an intense, powerful production that has the potential to make a tremendous impact. Kevin Edward Turner deserves recognition for his bravery, for raising awareness of mental health issues and for creating a high quality and truly original piece of dance.
Reviewer: Georgina Wells