Rethinking the traditional format of the mixed bill or showcase, Together, Not the Same presents each Young Associates choreographer with an intriguing challenge – to create one work in two distinct halves, one before the interval and one after. An opportunity to explore the same theme or to work in opposition to the earlier piece, the format provides a rich platform for experimentation which is taken up in various degrees by the four different choreographers.
First up in both halves is Christopher Thomas’ To The Ocean Floor, an elegiac exploration of one woman’s bearing witness to her own watery demise. Working in a similar fashion to abstract ballets, every performer is initially clothed in the same blue flowing dress, creating a sense of a shoal of fish or mermaids, a fluid chorus of movement and energy. These sections are some of the strongest of the piece, with exceptional lifts and some good group choreography. With four protagonists becoming distinct from the group, the piece loses its power and impact, deteriorating into melodrama and mush in the almost completely unnecessary second half.
Secondly we have Port Manteau, choreographed by Ruby Portus. This piece is unusual and fun, working with the very powerful motif of the speaking dancer. Áine Reynolds takes on this role, narrating the logic of the new founded land, planet Port Manteaux, with increasing breathlessness but constant enthusiasm. The concept is a little murky – what actually seems to have been created is Planet Internet Positivity, where good vibes are all that matters and posi-pumps (an ingenious device) re-inflate any overstressed collapsers. Quite where the significance of the port-manteaux lies is truly unclear.
The first half of this piece carries the audience nicely, as an energetic dance takes over from the rather lengthy narrative, although it has to be said the music does most of the heavy lifting, with the choreography feeling a little slap-dash: We Built This City by Starship is never going to fall flat. The second half works with the idea of a glitching world, although not before we have a significant quantity of repeated narrative from the first half which drags. In this section the choreography is much more interesting, with electric judders and glitches running into a kind of fluid dreamscape. Overall Port Manteau feels a little railroaded by its own concept, not quite leaving enough room for strong dance, although it is inventive and fun.
The second two pieces of the evening work most strongly with the split concept of the showcase, changing dramatically from one half to the other. Wilhelmina Ojanen’s Land, which ends both the first and second half, explores the relationship between humanity and the earth in two very different modes. In the first half, we have colour and vibrancy, with the five dancers working exceptionally well together in a rural microcosm. They seem to plant and become trees, being both explorers of the landscape and the landscape itself. The choreography is daring and inventive, with some extraordinary lifts showcasing the fearlessness of the dancers. The second half is a paradise lost, an empty stage with all the colour and vibrancy drained out. The dancers move like creatures tumbled into the abyss, points of gold on their costumes suggesting something of the angelic. More biblical references come through in the striking final image, in which one dancer slips out of her clothes like a seed growing and stands nude onstage, reaching upwards towards the light. It is a moving and thought-provoking piece, working well with the structure of the evening to create something of significance.
By far the most exciting and accomplished piece, however, is Anthony Matsena’s Vessels of Affliction. An exploration of what it means to be human and to be part of a tribe, the first half works inventively with physical percussion, vocalisations and animal work. The group are dressed in colourful garments, one half a sort of diaphanous skirt and the other half leggings suggestive of hybrid creatures, spirits rather than defined humans. The choreography is energetic and expressive, both when the whole group works together and when individuals are picked out. Quite why the individuals are picked out is a little unclear – perhaps to show their absorption into the group, the welcome and the celebration that comes from connection between human beings.
Nothing could be more different to the second half, in which we are relocated from this bucolic and primitive landscape to an urban mass of swirling haze. The colours are gone, replaced by black uniforms with accents of red. Black surgical face masks cover the mouths of the dancers, who scream and howl like desperate souls. The choreography is exceptional, working with some of the same motifs from the first episode whilst showing the corruption of said choreography into an aggressive miasma of fear and hatred. The speaking dancer is utilised in this second half, rapping a palindromic phrase about the breakage of individuals in the system. This moment feels a little on the nose, and a touch too long, but effectively expresses the entrapment felt by the individual. This caging of the dancers is viscerally presented as the lighting rigs begin to drop from above the stage, pressing down on the writhing bodies below. It is a powerful piece, and the combination of the dance, lighting and soundscape is perfection.