Joss Arnott Dance: Dark Angel seeks light

Posted: September 15th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Joss Arnott Dance: Dark Angel seeks light

Joss Arnott Dance, South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell, September 13.

Joss Arnott’s The Dark Angel tour (sounds better without the definite article) opened at the Wilde Theatre in Bracknell’s South Hill Park Arts Centre on Thursday evening. Arnott is a young choreographer with pluck and determination who already finds himself in the enviable position of working with his own company of seven dancers, all young women (though one, Lisa Rowley, is on loan from Tavaziva Dance). More quietly driven than confident, he has an air of knowing what he wants, and where he wants to be in the dance world and is busy carving out his territory, a brand in the making. He has the fragility of being on his own (although the tour is supported Arts Council England, commissioned by South East Dance and produced by Dep Arts), but this is part of his singleness of purpose. He may already have set his sights on work of an altogether grander scale, perhaps the opening ceremony of some festival or sports event. Indeed, there are elements of this in his group choreography this evening, with its running entrances and exits and its relentless physical pulse.

Whether it was planned or not, the titles of the works on the program are suggestive of cosmic growth from chaos to form – perhaps an unconscious metaphor for his own aspirations – but the works are not necessarily in that order. Arnott’s own solo, in the middle of the program, is called Origin, in which he emerges from the obscurity into the light, and the final dance for the entire company is called Threshold. The program opens with a short work he has created (uniquely for the Bracknell performance) with dancers of Berkshire County Dance Company Youth called State of Matter. The odd one out is 24, inspired, according to the briefest of program notes, by ‘themes and concepts explored within the Alexander McQueen exhibition, Savage Beauty…’

The Dark Angel tour is thus a statement of Arnott’s interests at this early stage of his career. For now the inspiration of McQueen’s surreal, dark imagery remains insufficiently realised to be apparent; it is still tucked away in Arnott’s imagination, for future development. What predominates in this show is the primordial energy and the very personal style of movement. Origin is a gathering of forces and shape, as his body struggles to arise into form. Most of the movement comes from within his joints, which have extraordinary flexibility, displacing his body with subtle, rippling movement. A sudden lyrical whiplash turn of the arms and torso draws him up from the floor, where we see him clearly. The side lighting is focused high, so when he is moving close to the floor he is in a murky light that is already suffused with smoke. In what is perhaps another connotation of the title, one can see the origin of Arnott’s choreography here, but it is a quality of movement rather than a vocabulary. It is thus a highly individual work, a solitary statement of his persona that stands in stylistic contrast to his two other works on the program. He also has a certain inbuilt pathos that provides one of the few moments of emotion in the evening’s performance. The work has no climax, for that would suggest an end, and this is a continuous beginning.

The two company works presented either side of his solo are thunderously energetic. James M. Keane’s drumming scores set the tone for both works – more so in Threshold than in 24 – so it is difficult to escape the pulsing rhythm, and even more difficult for the dancers to maintain the relentless drive. But maintain it they do, up to the final beat, which is a remarkable achievement. The costumes of 24 suggest an Amazonian rite of passage and the feral vocabulary for the all-female cast of five reinforces this. Not all his dancers have Arnott’s movement quality, but wherever possible he favours extensions and hyper-extensions of arms and legs, backs and hips and grounds his movement in deep pliés and lunges, which heightens the sense of power. Arnott uses a mix of solos, duets and trios interspersed with ensemble work to keep the continuous dynamics fresh (and to give the dancers a moment to recover) with entrances and exits made running at full speed into the movement, rather like a relay race with no winners. The competitive aspect in Threshold, in particular, can get quite intense, however, with its instances of (choreographed) violence. Only occasionally do the dancers have eye contact with the audience; otherwise the focus is predominantly inwards towards the group. In terms of full-throttle dynamics, Lisa Rowley and Lauren Wilson stand out, and Jessica Hall has the grasp of Arnott’s hyper-extended lines.

These girls are dancing for all they are worth, and we are watching their rites of passage. And Arnott’s, too.