Choreography Russell Maliphant; video artist Panagiotis Tomaras
Russell Maliphant Company
Lowry Lyric theatre, Salford
29 May 2019; 1 hr
Also Lancaster Arts, Lancaster, 11-12 October 2019
Call me sheltered, but I’ve never seen breakdancing to Chopin before. It was happening before we realised it and trust me, it works.
Award-winning choreographer Russell Maliphant’s latest work, Silent Lines, comes with a PhD-level programme that could easily discourage. Luckily much of the audience at The Lowry performance had clearly not bothered with it; their enthusiasm was intact and many were on their feet whooping and hollering with delight at the curtain call.
Maliphant is known for his flowing style, his detailed study of anatomy and his fusion of contemporary dance with bodywork, the catch-all term for movement disciplines such as yoga, pilates and Alexander technique. In this work he adds the “endless web of connections” of the body’s internal supporting membranes, the fascial system, so the work embodies flows of energy both internal and external.
Silent Lines was developed with the Greek video artist Panagiotis Tomaras, whose hypnotic video design bathes the dancers in cellular-shaped beams and cross-sections of muscles (beautifully framed by Stevie Stewart's costumes). Circles of light pulse like heartbeats across the stage or wash in waves around the dancers’ feet.
The complex score, designed by Maliphant’s long-term collaborator (and wife) Dana Fouras, includes a lullaby by Benjamin Godard as well as the Chopin (Piano Concerto No 2). But it is also drum-insistent, a techno beat driving the endless flow of movement and encouraging the crossover from breakdance and capoeira (an Afro-Brazilian martial art).
Fine dancers will always mesmerise and astonish with the power and control of their bodies, but Maliphant’s choreography here adds another element. In rehearsal he works with each dancer’s personal mobility through improvisation; the result is that the detail of each dancer’s physical structure is on display. All shoulders, elbows, hips and backs work differently, of course, but here that difference is encouraged, celebrated and exploited rather than eradicated by the strictures of the choreography.
Alethia Antonia, Edd Arnold, Grace Jabbari, Moronfoluwa Odimayo and Will Thompson swirled and spiralled and back-flipped in slow-motion and dipped and stretched, but with a control that indeed echoed the connective tissue encasing and moving with pounding arteries and flexing muscles.
The Russell Maliphant Company became one of Arts Council England’s national portfolio organisations last year, despite which, and despite a stream of awards and prizes, it isn't as well known as it might be.
Sometimes, as with the best inventions, you should ignore the science and concentrate on the joy of the final product. The relationship between music, movement and light is an endlessly fascinating one, and Silent Lines is a splendid exploration of it.
I think it would have been even better in a smaller, more intimate venue, but the work was not overpowered by the size or formality of the Lyric stage. The Lowry audience was aged from about eight to (probably) approaching 80, and the atmosphere was joyful.
Silent Lines returns to the North West on 11-12 October, with two performances at Lancaster Arts.