Thursday, 26 February 2015

Artificial Things, Stopgap Dance Company, Artsdepot


My one link with this evening's performance was with one of the composers, Andy Higgs, who had invited me along. Andy works in dance as a ballet repetiteur but increasingly as a composer and had been one of three composers who had contributed to this three-scene dance work, Artificial Things. The company, Stopgap dance, is a full-time company that produces work with disabled and non-disabled artists; the asymmetry of physique or physicality on stage is also integrated with the use of wheelchairs.

It's a little difficult to know quite where to start with Artificial Things. I was gripped throughout by a sense of narrative, though in vignettes, rather than a long read. I asked about the origins of the work at the post-performance Q&A. Lucy Bennett, the Artistic Director, indicated that the work was born from scratch but probably based on images: the image of a figure lying beside a part of a wheelchair; the image of another figure noticing and responding to this.

Bennett also mentioned the artist Goran Durovic, a Serbian whose pictures have a figures in community but also in tension. the pastel-like impasto of the artist's canvases probably suggested the integrated set and costume design. It's also the textured swirl of snow which escapes a pier-end slot machine to spill across the stage for the third scene.

If the choreography comes from these early ideas, it's from the tension between individuals. With the exception of the powerful charisma of Dave Toole (from scene two onwards) I found it tricky to discern a particular emotional trend in the other dancers. What was unmistakably in evidence though was the brisk, taught precision of movements both in solo sequences and in twos and threes. The consistency of this was very powerful and culminated in the logical nihilism of Chris Pavia's solo playing itself out.

Here's the logic of the title then. The artifice of people's assumptions about others; the artifice of people assuming a role (explicit in the dressing up of scene 2). I also read the scene as being at a seafront funfair of some kind, with its slot machine, etiolated lighting and indeed the artifical need to 'have fun'. If the tension was reflected in the insistent piano-based score of Chris Benstead's first scene then the processed songs of Jim Pinchen's portmanteau collection in scene two was the smeared world of David Lynch (complete with lip-synching a la Club Silencio/Mulholland Drive).

Andy Higgs' score was perhaps the most interesting to me - I recognised his interest in textures, bitonality (i.e. the fun to be had with music of two gravitational centres overlapping) and his whimsy in following new musical interest as it suggests itself. A magpie's musical taste without the fetters of any one style.

The performance was given in Barnet's Artsdepot, a new venue to me - a proper barn of a space West of Finchley populated by young dancers warming down. The audience was of a demographic not dissimilar to that of performers, where my dry question about the aesthetic origin of the work was countered with a question about where one might buy the remote controlled Henry vacuum cleaner...

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