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“You cannot label the ocean”
Russel Maliphant’s ‘Silent Lines’, as its programme so helpfully tells me, “draws upon research and explorations in dance and anatomy” and “is characterised by a unique flow and energy and an ongoing exploration of the relationship between movement, light and music”. Though these were all evident from watching the performance, truthfully, I had no idea what to expect when going into this piece. With no prior knowledge of Maliphant’s work, my greatest hope was to be slightly entertained for an hour by a visually interesting if slightly snore-inducing ’dance show’. What I got, however, was an engaging and aesthetically challenging piece of visual architecture that refused to allow my attention to slip for the entirety of its duration.
The piece began with all five dancers huddled together; the lights were slowly brought up, and a water-like image was projected onto the group. The choreography gave the same impression, with the dancers moving their bodies with such fluidity and oneness that it felt as though I was watching someone swirl a bowl of water gently in front of me. All this was set to an ominous yet strangely soothing drone that lay the foundations for what would be one of the more atmospheric arrangements I have heard in a live performance. Tracks ranged from more beat-driven electronic music to melodic and romantic acoustic numbers. This musical diversity allowed for an enormous range of aesthetics and styles for Maliphant to explore. The high energy percussion peaks allowed the performers to move with incredible pace or, at times, with an almost hypnotic pulsation, and the melancholic low-points gave the piece a varied pace and feel of constant evolution, with the dancers slowing down and revealing the intricacy of their movements.
The contrast was also extremely effective within the performance, such as between claustrophobia and freedom. When the dancers performed with intensity, energy, and power, it gave a sense of individual expression and an almost improvised feel. True enough, I discovered afterwards that the piece was not choreographed to specific musical beats, meaning there was an element of spontaneity in the play. However, projections on the floor would often encompass the performer and grow, shrink or move, suggesting a physical constraint imposed upon their movements. This gave me flashbacks to my GCSE Drama teacher instructing me to ‘push boundaries’. Maliphant seemingly propels the same message; whatever the dancers do within the light is nothing if they don’t break free of the constraints of convention while doing it, or something that sounds less pretentious than that.
Towards the end, at what was for me the high point of the whole show, the light that had surrounded the performers began to resemble inkblots from a Rorschach test. It was only when these shapes morphed into the same watery projections that began the evening that, after all of my attempts to derive meaning while sat in the audience, something hit home for me. The piece was intentionally abstract. A person watching and deciding that it is a propaganda film in support of some political movement would be just as correct as any pretentious drivel I could come up with. Likewise, two people looking at the ocean, one of which feels peace, the other of which feels fear, are both equally correct. You cannot label the ocean, or indeed a projection resembling one, with a specific feeling, because each person feels differently. And so, for that reason, watch ‘Silent Lines’. Not to analyse it or derive meaning, but to feel it, and allow yourself to be submerged in the beauty of it all.