Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Terra at the Print Room

The Coronet in Notting Hill is the sort of theatre that the well-dyed in Hackney dream of. 'Shabby-chic' does not do justice to the crumble, chill and red-low lighting of a 1898 theatre that once hosted Sara Bernhardt. The bar is the stall circle with a piano, holding the drinks, wedged against the seating rake; the stage is propped on a temporary ceiling above so that the dress circle becomes the front row of the auditorium. It's classy and it's cosy.

Its yesterdayness also makes it a good place to see Terra, the third in a series of 'elemental' dance works contrived by choreographer Hubert Essakow. Terra's narrative might be dystopian or Jules-Verne-adventuring. A new poem by Ben Okri chapter-heads each sequence with wide words concerning existence. That may sound a bit wooly but it works as a warm perspective on the set design, a superb tall, contemporary Pompeii, from Sofie Lachaert and Luc d’Hanis.

The company dance very well in ensemble on a small stage, with occasional solo stand-outs (I was particularly struck by Estela Merlos' prologue and the strikingly accomplished dancing from child dancer Constance Booth. Technically the show is as well contrived as the dancing with sharp lighting and careful amplification of both a single voice and the performance area. The company dance to a new score by Jean-Michel Bernard, an established film score composer, who has produced a thoughtful collective of styles from French turn of the century Fauvism to the mid 1970s Mwandishi/Headhunters funk of Herbie Hancock, invoking the rhythmic asceticism of Stravinsky along the way.

Not a compulsive patron of (contemporary) dance, I must only rely on my first instincts for being theatrically absorbed to tell me whether what I had seen was any good. I thought Terra was terrific. Above all, if this is typical in the wider vernacular of contemporary dance it might have been a good example of how one could go about watching it. There does appear to be some sort of narrative but this is under the lock and key of the choreographer's imagination, leaking out into that funny gap between the abstraction of technique, or form, and the programme of an objective story. The value of the performance lies in the conviction of the performers and the opportunity that affords the audience to conjure their own ideas. I found I had plenty of space to let my imagination wander, which I take as a sign of success.