The latest act to join the Lancaster Arts programme this week included Verve, the Northern School of Contemporary Dance’s postgraduate company. Presenting four new works in a Mixed Bill, they filled the evening with a variety of choreography so that there was something for everyone.
The first work of the night was ‘the sea tells a story’. Out of all the pieces, I have to say this was my least favourite despite the whispers of those around me that it was ‘simply amazing’. If the piece explored Mark O’Connell’s depiction of the sea, as the program described, then the piece fell short. The dancer’s movements resembled a slow-motion exposition of nightclub dancing, and, simple, too many ideas on stage resulted in a lack of coherency and an absence of depth. Between the intricate music, the lighting, and the dancers, there was too much going on. Despite this, they professionally executed the piece’s individual aspects. The contact work demonstrated an evident amount of thought and effort in conceptualising and perfecting these sequences, and their use of weight transference created a fluidity of motion that was highly skilled.
The performance only got better from this point in the evening with 4:18 up next. Described as ‘a group of lost souls desperate for connection in a city that never sleeps’, the dancers showed a fascination with the people’s interactions shown in contrast to the undercutting violence of stillness. This piece balanced fractured desperation perfectly, contrasting dynamism with smoothness, earthquakes with counterbalances, demonstrating how one action can send out shockwaves across a stage. This use of soundscaping was beautiful, as it utilised the sounds and words as a translation for movement. Cleverly, it showed how movements could shift from the banality of making a sandwich to the animalistic aggression of insomnia as smoothly as a shadow can expand and shrink with subtle alterations of light.
In complete contrast to this, Team V opened the second half comedically, with the dancers dressed as a sports team from the ’80s with the music taste and power walking to match. Using clever yet comic interactions between speech, breath, and movement, they showed how they all correspond. The human body became a ‘musical instrument on two legs’, demonstrating that breath creates a rhythm which is the basis for movement. Their use of silence was impressive, a bold move in a piece about the voice but one utilised effectively. The piece comically climaxed with ‘I breathe therefore I am’, and miscommunications of love leading to conflicted slow dances, asking what happens when our voices fail us? While this dance was an unexpected and different turn to the evening, it was fresh.
The closing piece, Shutdown, utilised rhythm to explore the contrast between ‘outside’ and ‘inside’. Using complex syncopated rhythms collectively presented the dancers understanding of their unique 15 beat phrase. The solo dancers showed a deeper understanding of the broader musical textures in their movement, and the interaction between dance and music that, for me, the first piece had lacked. Using their bodies to create extra rhythmic interest with stamps, claps, and shouts allowed exhibited the dancer’s joy, gratefully coming across to the audience. The costume change showed the blandness of the inside contrasting to the freer outside, stripping the rhythms right back for a quieter finish. Intentionally fake smiles and weary eyes slowed the dance to its close.
Overall, the dancer’s technique and performance were to a professional standard. I have no doubt, after this enjoyable evening, that in future I’ll be watching the same dancers again and singing their praises at how far they’ve come.