Lîla Dance: A Readiness, The Incredible Presence Of A Remarkable Absence

Posted: January 16th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Lîla Dance: A Readiness, The Incredible Presence Of A Remarkable Absence

Lîla Dance, A Readiness, The Incredible Presence Of A Remarkable Absence, Pavilion Dance, November 29

Before Lîla Dance begins their own program, hoards of young children in orange costumes erupt on to the stage in two lines to form two circles. Their performance is neatly choreographed by Lîla Dance as part of their outreach program, but what I see is the children bumping, laughing, copying, wondering where to go, finding their places, seeing who’s in the audience, pulling up trousers, jumping, reaching, giggling, and stamping. As the little ones exit, their places are taken by slightly older children. Some are tentative, others have a natural presence on stage. Counting the beat with their heads, they keep in line, form and reform what could be one giant, moving school picture and keep their infectious energy bubbling until they all leave in enthusiastic disorder.

Lîla Dance is presenting two works of their own: a duet for — and created by — co-artistic directors Abi Mortimer and Carrie Whitaker called A Readiness and a new, longer piece based on Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot choreographed by Mortimer: The Incredible Presence Of A Remarkable Absence.

A Readiness sees both dancers at ease in a style of contact improvisation that has pace, skill, nerve and humour. The set looks as if it is inspired by an IKEA lighting catalogue: a variety of anglepoise and desk lamps, with one naked light bulb suspended on a long cord. There is no plot but rather a series of games in which one performer dares the other to join in. They support each other, knock each other over, bump each other as if attached by elastic, take each other’s weight, hold on to each other like hooks, catch each other from running, embrace, change impulsively from pose into movement like two clowns playing a skillfully choreographed game of follow-the-leader. The score is a collage of recorded sounds by Dougie Evans (a third co-artistic director of Lîla Dance): tram bells, doorbells, foghorns and falling water, played forward and backward, that work their way subtly into the improvisation. Whitaker is like the water and Mortimer like the resultant electric current; together they form a seamless, continuous, mutual support framework. At one point Whitaker crawls like a crab under one of the lamps to take a breather, but Mortimer is not having any of it. ‘Ready?’ she asks. ‘Yep’, answers Whitaker, jumping up to start another game, as they push and needle each other. Mortimer and Whitaker play on their differences; Mortimer the driver is the more frenetic and needy, while Whitaker appears the stronger and more phlegmatic of the two. The movement celebrates those differences and the two characters are fully developed here in what is on one level a very casual, playful interaction but one that comes alive through rigorous execution.

The Incredible Presence Of A Remarkable Absence sees Mortimer stepping out of the action and creating choreography on a quartet of dancers: Aya Kobayashi, Joe Darby, Kai Downham and Whitaker. Inspired by working with Simona Bertozzi, it is the first time the company is incorporating text and theatre into the dance element. The score is again by Dougie Evans, providing an eclectic mix of sourced sound, some rather mournful strains of mandolin and brass against the soft crackle of campfires with snatches of birdsong, Jimmy Rogers singing Waiting for a train and a lovely passage by Evans himself on slide guitar.

I saw The Incredible Presence Of A Remarkable Absence twice; the first on opening night at The Point in Eastleigh, and the second here at Pavilion Dance. There was something that didn’t work for me on the opening night though I couldn’t put my finger on it; I wanted to see it again to clarify or refute my original reservations.

There are advantages and disadvantages to relating the piece to such a milestone of theatre  as Waiting for Godot, but they are not central to an appreciation of the work itself. What is central is the way it is played. My first impression was that Mortimer and the cast had made Beckett too cuddly, too soft; the images are of a comfortable desperation, a bearable absurdity. On my second viewing this feeling remained, but it was related to something more essential. The defining moment for me was when the clean-cut, elegantly-costumed Downham blurts out the line “All my lousy life I’ve crawled about in the mud” with nothing in his appearance, behaviour or demeanour to suggest the truth of his statement. Suddenly the discomfort I had felt about the piece clarified: the four characters are simply not sufficiently defined for the performers to develop them. The cast members, who have no lack of spirit and no inability to move, are thus confined to playing themselves with standardised tropes instead of getting inside their characters. Without the development of character, their actions tend to meander to the end at the same level with which they start and although there is a comic element, it comes across as incidental and disembodied because it has no character or action to support it. A Readiness has no such problem because of its abstract nature, and as such there is an integrity between choreography and performers. The Incredible Presence Of A Remarkable Absence derives from A Readiness but fails to metamorphose into theatre.