The Eyes Have It
Forming a tight circle, five bodies sit back to back at the end of a narrow white bench, eyes staring off into the distance, never looking at those seated around them. Directly above, a cloud of balloons changes color and mood, casting frugal light on the bodies beneath. An ambient droning as one body begins, almost imperceptively, to move from side to side. Its movements become larger, widening a little with each motion, pressing against those on either side, the rippling effect carrying itself around the small, tight circle. Presently all bodies begin an uneasy undulation, creating a flow and counter flow of energy that presses them closer together, opens up spaces, a rising and falling like petals opening on a freshly formed bloom until, slowly, bodies separate, falling away, only to rise like twisted zombies astonished at their sense of agency.
And so it begins.
In “FREAGRA | A Blurred Expanse” by Edinburgh based Rob Heaslip Dance, flow and counter flow comprise the choreographic cornerstone of this deeply engaging production. One where impulses and movement flows are interrupted, misdirected, or redirected, in a sensual whole that is often beguiling to watch. Throughout, the eyes have it, with a stare, or a glance, often enough to urge the body to further movements, or resistance, in a richly complex chain reaction as visually powerful as it is irresistibly impressive.
Like the basic tenet of Tai Chi, “FREAGRA | A Blurred Expanse” directs movement and energy in a near constant flow, even when seemingly standing still. Throughout, expressions of individual choice and collective consensus are challenged, or confirmed, seeming to evolve organically and randomly. Yet whatever the illusion of randomness, there is nothing haphazard about “FREAGRA | A Blurred Expanse." Generated from an interaction of cause and effect, ranging from a single glance to the most complex intertwining of physical impulses, movement sequences show both rigour and timing executed to near perfection.
A stunning series of group pieces and various parings, including several astonishing solos, establish movement sequences in which shapes evolve from an impulse before becoming impulses themselves, leading to further movements and further impulses. Two astonishing solos by female dancers, including a robotic puppet-like sequence, prove particularly powerful. As is a delightful duet that establishes a recurring motif, with bodies leaning against each other in support and resistance simultaneously, achieving a harmonious balance as powerful as it is fragile. If the ending sees an orgy of striving silhouettes vanish into the dark, like the never-ending fade out on a song, it’s because energy never dies. The dance keeps going long after the lights go down.
If its merits outweigh its drawbacks, Heaslip’s preference for a collaborative, improvisational, and individually informed creative process shows too many traces of the puppet, mirroring, impulse, and pacing games used in development and training. The effect risks dusting the experience with the suggestion that the work, in these instances, hasn’t developed past its starting point exercises. A situation not helped by the brief inclusion of some near contortionist movements that suggest an easy and unnecessary showiness. Compositionally, while stunning in several places, the infrequent use of split focus, with dancers occasionally blocking sightlines, often undermines the competing movement passages on stage. With dancers generating a cinematic rather than a photographic dance experience, the ‘split screen’ effect dissipates the hard won sense of flow, leaving you with the disappointing feeling of having missed out on something worth watching.
Yet, in the end, what could’ve been a hot mess, a case of too many opinions and not enough central vision, turns out to be incredibly hot, and just that little bit special. Throughout “FREAGRA | A Blurred Expanse” Ross Whyte’s superb original music marries itself beautifully with Heaslip's choreography, with movement seeming to inform, as much as being informed by, Whyte’s rich array of sounds and rhythms. Rhythms with which dancers Astrid Bramming, Fiona Jefferies, Giulia Montalbano, Tommaso Petrolo, and Evan Schwarz fashion some beguiling and breathtaking sequences built on the interplay of energy, flow, and impulse. Hypnotic, alluring, with an incredible ensemble of dancers, “FREAGRA | A Blurred Expanse” is fifty minutes of choreographed delight, achieving near perfection on more than one occasion.
“FREAGRA | A Blurred Expanse” by Rob Heaslip Dance, runs at Project Arts Centre until March 27th
For more information, visit Project Arts Centre