Contact Dance Company performed two new pieces in front of a sell-out audience at
The Walker Theatre, Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury.
The first surprise for the audience, in this eagerly awaited show, was that seats were aligned in two long rows, facing each other across the performance space. In the front row we rested our feet on the dance floor: we were going to be close to the action.
The first piece was a duet entitled Human Range. Two dancers, one of whom used a wheelchair, explored the limits of their own and each other’s human range. A fresh and energetic soundtrack, by composer Nils Frahm, accompanied the piece. Human Range was choreographed by Shropshire Inclusive Dance directors,
Rachel Liggitt and Ray Jacobs.
Dancers, Delphine Wise and Poppy Mansfield, used gestures and sweeping movement, combining equal measures of clear, sharp focus and physical power and fragility. Delphine manoeuvred her chair with grit and grace. Poppy Mansfield added playfulness and liquid smooth movement to the piece. When in close proximity, the dancers’ bodies, gestures and sight lines reached across the space in a series of near misses and fleeting moments of contact.
As the work progressed the contact became more frequent and physical; human range became a metaphor for emotional and physical support. The long dance space, with audiences either side, acted as a corridor for playful and sometimes competitive travelling sequences. Audiences, so close to the action, were truly part of what they had come to see.
‘Being Seen’, choreographed by Jo Fong, took the audience by surprise. Eight performers entered the stage to the joyful fanfare of Handel’s Zadok The Priest. As an audience member, I felt I was constantly being offered: ‘This is me and This is me and This is me’ as dancers gazed towards us from different parts of the stage. This was a great introduction to the dancers that make up Contact Dance Company: dancers of different ages, dancers with different bodies, dancers who kept their feelings in, dancers whose smile and fears spilled out. It was joyous.
In the programme notes the choreographer, Jo Fong, asked: ‘Do you see the disability or the person?’ I saw humanity in all its diverse beauty.
Cue the second big surprise of the evening, as ‘Zadok the Preist’ moved to its choral climax. Dancers draped a huge floating sheet of white linen down the entire length of the ‘corridor’ and then, during the next frantic ten seconds, littered it with everyday objects, transforming the performance space. Pot Plants, photos, prosthetic limbs, children’s toys and all kinds of paraphernalia lay around the performers, who lifted, placed, rested on and moved the objects, offering disjointed and unexpected images, sometimes dystopian, sometimes comical.
The piece never failed to surprise, moving through sections where performers conducted the audience like an orchestra, to a bold, sensuous duet, accompanied by a dark Nick Cave love song.
The audience were truly riveted; there was so much to see, including the reactions of each other across the dance space. There were further chances for the audience to get to know the performers as each dancer talked one to one to audience members about their very own special object; Dancer Amal Neffi shared the story of her prosthetic legs and the geographical and emotional journey it was for her to get to the point where they could be discarded, in favour of being seen for who she is. Dancer Andrew Kelly, shared the love of his Star Trek costume and the joy of being seen as a different person.
As these monologues progressed, dancers began to congregate in a melee of movement, shifting and being shifted as an ensemble across the space. It was like watching an anamatron of limbs, bodies, arms, wheels and legs, moving in, out and between each other. The faces of audience members next to me looked bewildered at the speed, complexity, and sensitivity of this improvised movement. No time for the eyes to settle on one person – continual meeting, engaging and leaving.
The final section of the work felt like the slow transformation from sunset to dusk, as intimate duos closed their eyes and began slowly moving each other. The dancers continued long after the stage lights receded, creating a sense of something without end, whether seen or not.
Being Seen was performed by Chloe Shepherd, Amal Neffi, Mervyn Bradley,
Kevin Shepherd, Anna Belyavin, Becky Keir, Andrew Kelly, and Rachel Liggitt.
Directed by Jo Fong
Music was by George Frideric Handel, Antonio Vivaldi, Nick Cave, and Kiasmos.
Lighting Design – Jonathan Tritton
Costume Design and Fitting – Sue Hall
Jo Fong is an award-winning director, choreographer & performer working in dance, film, theatre, opera and the visual arts.
Contact Dance Company is part of Shropshire Inclusive Dance.
For more information about the company, visit http://www.sidance.live