‘NOWhere’ & ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ – review

Words by Katie Hagan.

We should all be keeping a close eye on the work that is emerging from the group of dance artists at London Contemporary Dance School. Creating work that is cerebral, multimedia-ed, wry and candid, with an inky darkness that stains your memory, this collective will leave no stone unturned in their pursuit to expose the faults in our troubled world. 

Greta Gauhe, the Follow Through Collective, and Alka Nauman are key artists within this movement. Gauhe’s NOWhere and Nauman’s Be fruitful and multiply were recently exhibited at Chisenhale Dance Space, a great asset to the dance industry and a fitting place for the performance of these works.

In NOWhere we are kept in darkness and silence. Lights are then lit sporadically, dangling from dancers’ hands and mouths like pendulums. They hang so precariously it’s as if we are waiting for them to drop. We hear the flick of the switches. Sounds made in the moment by the dancers are brought together with a live pianist accentuating Andy Trewen’s deeply atmospheric music. These textures make for a soundscape which brings NOWhere‘s messages into perspective: prejudice, stereotyping and racism. The light shows us what we are not told to see.

A light is put to a dancer’s throbbing hand. From his drooping limbs, it is clear hope has been sucked from his body. He collapses under his weight, but the other dancers lift him up. Then a series of frames occur, where lights are turned on during movement and off to mark a silent transition. Whilst the lights are on dancers talk about loss, alienation, indifference and anxiety, quoting: “Were you really my friends?”, “I remember… the smell”. They remember memories of alienation and discrimination, and, under a spotlight, now have to deal with the thoughts which have caught up with them. Performer Flavien Cornilleau laughs like Joaquin Phoenix in Joker, his raucous cackle morphs from a desperate cry to a chilling splutter. Will anyone listen?

Dancers mutate, the movement is combative. Under the light, the dancers explore different body parts. Spoken word and choreography converge pleasingly, creating a kind of exchange between words and movement; “Can I?” is followed by a touch and “Would you?” leads to one dancer guiding and then showing.

NOWhere comes to a close with a tender duet from Ghost and John. Moulding to each other’s bodies, they physically and figuratively shine light on what is beautiful. NOWhere ends with Marta Stepien elevated in the air, walking on the dancers’ hands as they transport her across the stage. She beseeches “Can we” to every individual in the room, and falls into darkness as we answer a hopeful, yet uncertain, yes.

Nauman’s Be fruitful and multiply opens the second half. The piece has a pictorial beginning, with the four dancers languishing on the floor in a frame that has distinct overtones of Boticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’ or Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam’. The dancers move across the stage at slow, conveyor belt pace, maintaining an even speed until they reach their destination: a sea of blue plastic bags. 

They greet the plastic bags as if they are reunited with an old friend. Maintaining the same rhythm, the four dancers, clad in pastel colours, proceed to make a diagonal chain of plastic bags. Women make plastic beards, plastic chests, plastic artefacts. One dancer plumps a plastic bag, raising it up in the air so it is suspended in the air cloud-like. The metamorphoses climaxes with a dancer cradling a bag motherly, another with a protruding belly stuffed with blue. Our toxic relationship with plastic bags is warped and hugely sinister. Who do we become when we use plastic bags?

The final frame involves the dancers impersonating female opera artists, cranking their jaws open like the figure in Edvard Munch’s iconic painting. It is ridiculous, funny, ironic and sparks lots of inside laughter, and taps into inaccurate representations of femininity throughout the ages.

Be fruitful and multiply is a poised piece of dance, which could be transferred to any performance space. The general bizarre-ness of it all – the speed, the bags, the allusions to materialism – would make for an interesting parallel with a disused supermarket, or somewhere typically artificial, busy, yet no longer in use.

Strangely serene and darkly comic, Be fruitful and multiply evokes our unnatural obsession with a man-made object, turning attention to both the obvious and obscure ways plastic is damaging humanity and the planet.

Images: Anna Jockymek.

Follow Through Collective is comprised of: Greta Gauhe, Andy Trewen, Ghost Chan, FrancisJohn Chan, Marta Stepien, Flavien Cornilleau, Hannah Adams and Claudia Silas.