Russell Maliphant
Dana Fouras in Russell Maliphant's “< >.” Photograph by Johan Persson

Dancing in the Light

Russell Maliphant and Michael Hulls' “Conceal | Reveal”

Performance
“Conceal | Reveal” choreography by Russell Maliphant
Place
Sadler’s Wells, London, UK, November 26-28, 2015
Words
Rachel Elderkin

“Conceal | Reveal” marks the twentieth anniversary of the collaboration between choreographer Russell Maliphant and lighting designer Michael Hulls. The programme featured two new works alongside their past work, “Broken Fall” originally performed by Sylvie Guillem and BalletBoyz. Bayerisches Staatsballett also makes a guest appearance with “Spiral Pass,” a work Maliphant was commissioned to create on the company in 2014.

It’s with this work that Maliphant chose to open the bill. Beneath a bright white light, Bayerisches Staatsballett’s principal dancers Lucia Lacarra and Marlon Dino execute a series of slow, complex lifts with acute control. Despite the throbbing pulse of the music their steady pace remains unbroken, their calm, effortless appearance unruffled.

As they drift apart the company dancers assemble and the piece builds in pace. The dancers twist around themselves, their movement switching between spirals and deep plies, between phrases of contemporary and classical work, ensemble and duets. True to its title the work revolves like a spiral, developing on versions of itself. As it progresses the confines of its classical form relax and the duets take a contemporary tone, the dancers’ interlinked bodies leading them into low lifts and shifts of weight.

The male dancers of the company embrace the work’s contemporary edge, their movement filled with knee spins and forearm balances. In contrast the female dancers remain upright and graceful. Their neoclassical style has a playful tone with its fleeting fifth positions and fluid bourrees. While this choreographic choice is strikingly gender specific, it’s a clear way for Maliphant to contrast the genres his work hovers between.

Phrases begin as dancers emerge from the darkness and end as they dissolve into its depths. The lights follow them across the stage, their bodies and movement continually exposed beneath the white glare. Contemporary works often favour a dimly lit stage, a soft glow that catches at the body and just highlights the movement. The rare brightness of “Spiral Pass” hides nothing, but with the dancers of Bayerisches Staatsballett that’s only positive.

Their technical ability is displayed to impressive effect in a quintet between four male dancers and Lacarro. She falls between lifts, her body an image of sheer strength and control as she is passed from partner to partner with impeccable timing, grace and ease. Incredible though this sequence is, it begins to feel a little overindulged. The dancers seem more at ease in this classical work, their floor work not always exhibiting the fluidity and drive it could have. However in such a mesmerising, beautiful work, such moments can be forgiven. It ends in a smooth, whirling finish, the female dancers spinning in spirals across the floor at the hands of their male partners.

“Broken Fall” returns to the company repertoire, this time danced by Yu-Hsien Wu with Adam Kirkham and Nathan Young. It’s a slow paced work and, perhaps due to this, the phrases feel segmented, as if one movement doesn’t quite flow in to the next. Wu is exchanged between her partners; passed through lifts, leaning and falling with implicit trust. The three dancers work closely together, as a trio or switching between duets, the waiting dancer always watching for their moment to return.

In “Spiral Pass” the form of the dancers’ movements is so precise that you need nothing more than to simply watch and admire. In this work there’s a distinct want of a story, of an emotion, to explain the slow thoughtful phrases the dancers perform. In the moments where “Broken Fall”gathers pace the movement begins to flow and fill with life but this energy isn’t captured throughout.

Maliphant and Hull’s partnership is at the heart of this programme. In their new work, “<<both, and>>,” a solo for dancer Dana Fouras, Maliphant and Hull have designed a piece that plays with perception, creating movement that’s simultaneously there and not there. Through the placement of backlights the shadow of Fouras is projected onto a gauze screen. As she dances, her arms wrapping around her body, her giant self dances with her, the lines and shapes she creates enlarged in shadow.

Yet these shadow selves are more than just a mirage, they are a part of the dance. At points Fouras’ shadow duplicates, even triples, so that her solo becomes a trio or quartet. When she moves forward and merges with herself it feels a continuation rather than a change in tone. In “<<both, and>>” Maliphant and Hull show the strength of their partnership, creating an intelligent work that is both artistic and atmospheric.

The final work of the bill, “Piece No. 43” is, quite literally the forty-third work Maliphant and Hull have created together. Accompanied by an electronic whirring the five dancers step forward into individual rectangles of light. Gradually their stillness morphs into movements of their arms and upper body. They appear statuesque as they pass with a slow fluidity through each position, hardly shifting from the spot they stand on.

The steady strumming of the music fades into Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata and the sculptural stillness of the opening is broken by a male duet centred on athletic floor work, yet even this movement remains calm and controlled, performed almost in slow motion. The female dancers cluster in a trio upstage, their arms gracefully entwining. As the lights fade and the dancers drift into the darkness their movement melts with the music. It would have made a beautiful ending.

With a crackling beat, “Piece No. 43” kicks back into life, the blocks of light multiply, and dancer Yu-Hsien Wu crosses their rectangular patterns with a flow that looks improvised, her body pulsing with the music.  As the dancers return to their individual rectangles, the lights flickering down their diagonal line in quick succession, the transformation from “Piece No. 43’s” tranquil opening to its energetic close is striking.

This is a slow-paced bill, but it is choreography and design to indulge in. As a celebration of Maliphant and Hull’s 20 years working together, the programme provides a fittingly strong and enjoyable selection; proof of the choreographic alchemy of their partnership.

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