Leviathan (3 stars) | The North (2 stars) | 038 (4 stars) | Together Alone (4 stars)

Lucy Ribchester reviews: Leviathan (3 stars) | The North (2 stars) | 038 (4 stars) | Together Alone (4 stars)

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Taiwan Season: Together Alone
Published 08 Aug 2017

Dancebase is the obvious first port of call for dance aficionados at the Fringe. But its programme caters for more than those with a taste for the abstract or avant-garde. A good example of this is James Wilton Dance’s Leviathan. A more swashbuckling and blockbuster piece of dance is hard to imagine.

Backed by a soundtrack from Lunatic Soul that could score a James Bond film, this voyage of doom for mankind is loosely based on Moby Dick, and follows a violently pumped crew of whale hunters in pursuit of a majestic beast. The duets and ensemble pieces between the sailors are all yanks and capoeira kicks, struggles and brash leaps: though the choreography is sometimes repetitive, the execution is arresting from start to finish, with a particularly discomfiting male energy. This vigour and force is counterbalanced by Sarah Jane Taylor as the whale, tumbling across the stage as if she could move an ocean with her arms. When she bends forward in a cetacean ripple she seems to wring every ounce of energy from her muscles. Though on the schlocky side, this is the sort of piece you could bring your non-dance-fan friend to and convince them dance is as exciting as an action movie.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, surreal, insouciant The North, from Barcelona-born choreographer Joan Clevillé, is bursting with whimsical, eccentric ideas, conjuring up a projection of what the North might be. Two sprites in gold trousers and winter sweaters lug in a body bag that births a lost man called John. His journey to a sort of comprehension or equilibrium with his new environment involves him learning to converse with a shape-shifter who moves from wolf to sheep to Daffy Duck, being covered in foam snow, and donning a pair of cuddly antlers.

It’s a shame John’s storyline feels tacked on and undercooked, with the scripted lines nowhere near matching the passages of silent movement for intrigue and complexity. While there are some beautiful moments in the piece—a puppet cagoule dancing; one scene where John’s arm becomes a mountain road for a tiny precarious truck—as a whole The North feels like a striking collage that hasn’t quite cohered.

Dancebase is playing host to two Taiwan Season pieces, both a rich mix of concept and movement fascinating in its own right. 038 takes its title from a telephone code in Hualien, home to the indigenous Pangcah people. Director Kuo-Shin Chuang, an academic expert in Taiwanese aboriginal dance, has combined movement from the Amis people's harvest festival dances with contemporary textures. The result is a curious, sometimes unsettling swerve between urban industrial patterns and spiritual discipline, drudgery and devotion. The cast of nine women all wear pale grey smocks—timeless, ageless—and move in drills, shuddering, shuffling, yearning with their arms outstretched to us, spiking their fingers up to the sky. Expressionless at first, their individualism emerges at the gradual pace of a tree bud opening, and by the end we see their hopes, fears, anxieties and longings written into their gestures. It’s a quiet poetry that is hauntingly executed.

Showing later on is Together Alone – its timing a good example of the art of scheduling the Fringe. There’s a night-time buzz, even though the theatre is artificially lit, and it’s likely this piece wouldn’t have the same feel were it performed in the middle of the morning or afternoon. The dreamspace seems necessary for what Zoltán Vakulya and Chen-Wei Lee have created, a duet between their two naked bodies, which stay in contact throughout. It’s strange to acknowledge that the simple omission of even underwear on a body can change it from bold to vulnerable. But that is how the pair seem, quietly finding strength in the intensity of their connection.

When the piece begins, we can only see glimpses of Lee hidden behind Vakulya, her arms echoing his, her shoulder sometimes distorting his shape. They sway, exchange positions, coil and burrow into each other. The nudity renders all dance clichés about trees or sea creatures or insects void; they look like humans, bonding and exploring their bonds. When they face each other belly to belly, a rocking motion travels with imperceptible pace up into their shoulders, then swings into their arms. In a slice of spotlight they seesaw tongues back and forth. The slowness of the early passages, though intoxicating, does however use up some of the patience required for the later part of the piece, which, extraordinary in its knotted shapes, still feels too drawn out. Yet as they glide to a finale, orbiting each other with linked hands, you feel as if you have travelled with them to another planet and back.