Words by Katie Hagan.

Last weekend I was finally back in a physical dance space experiencing physical dance performances!! Can’t believe it. It has literally been so long. The outdoors Greenwich+Docklands International Festival (GDIF) has received so much attention this year; unsurprising considering it is one of the first larger-scale arts events to take place out of lockdown. People need theatre.

Flushed with river-air, my cheeks reddened by the ploughs of the gusty wind, I was watching GDIF’s Dancing City programme in the epicentre of London’s capitalist money-pot, Canary Wharf. Definitely a contrast. Whilst I was initially quite anxious that the dancers would feel as if they were competing with the fish-bowl grandeur of the regenerated (this word is an architect’s catnip; it really means gentrified) docklands, the two performances I luckily paid witness to at GDIF’s Upper Street site — L’Uomo by Lo-Giudice Dance and Catch Me by Upswing Aerial — moved their audiences and left impressionable footprints on  the impenetrable artificiality of Canary Wharf.  

Whilst I was thinking about the parallels and intersections between dance and this space, I was consciously aware of being outside in a public area whilst watching L’Uomo. Created by artistic director, Anthony Lo’Giudice and performed by Anthony and dance artist, Alex Rowland the piece is a window into the prejudice same-sex couples experience when they show affection in public. Dressed in mortal black, L’Uomo begins with one dancer standing behind the other, moving his hands through the intimate gap between his lover’s arms and waist to unbutton a part of his shirt and playfully articulate his hands as if he is a puppeteer animating his lover’s body.

L’Uomo – Lo-Giudice

The duo moves with the same insouciance of the tide that’s aware time is slipping away with every wave that curls to the shore, enjoying these touches yet accepting they will come to an end. Loss sticks in the atmosphere. The movement maintains the same cadence throughout, with furtive touches contrasted with weightless, climactic lifts.

Running for around 20-minutes, L’Uomo works like a pendulum. The two dancers take it in turns to cut themselves from this situationship; marking this divorce by running to the corner of the performance space and pausing in time. In terms of the actual story it did feel like a ‘will-they-or-won’t-they’ saga, where one ghosts the other just as they become close. They were so into each other that I didn’t quite gauge when the public became the unwanted guest. Perhaps clearer distinctions and connections between the public and privacy of the duo would make this idea clearer. Alternatively, maybe I was part of the public as an audience member. Just maybe the performance space was actually the world where same-sex couples have to refrain from showing human signs of love – the same society in which heterosexual couples do not face the same discrimination. 

Sensitive and moving, L’Uomo uses dance and physical gesture to highlight the anxiety same-sex couples still experience being together in public. 

Catch Me by Upswing Aerial follows L’Uomo and is a duet performed by Susan Kempster and Jerone Marsh-Reid. Created by Upswing’s founder, Vicki Amedume, this piece explores the connection/disconnection between an older woman (FINALLY, some good representation!) and a younger man; two different biologies and ethnicities navigating a small square space.

Finn Anderson’s percussive music propels the piece forward as the two dancers interact with two material objects designed by Becky Minto: a full-length, wheelable transparent sheet of plastic set within a timber frame and an impressive white chair concoction that wouldn’t look out of place in IKEA (minimalist, functional and climbable). Sporadic tinkles of the xylophone in particular add a propulsive urgency to the cat and mouse movement performed by the two dancers as they scutter around each other, never meeting.

Catch Me made me ask a lot of questions and it still does as I write this review a few days later. I like it when dance work lingers on my tongue. Do they fear their meeting, if and when it happens? What was the relevance of the objects? Were they preventing something? If so, what was it? Am I being too literal? Maybe.

In Catch Me I was able to connect with so many small nuances within movement-making that I’d never considered previously. The two dancers alternately mounted the great white chair edifice, towering above the audience like the skyscrapers surrounding the performance space. A precarious motif, I could almost see them processing the calculations methodically in their minds, working in tune with the inanimate object so it wouldn’t collapse.

With both of them at varying heights, the difference in physical viewpoints called attention to the figurative contrast in their perceptions of each other. Interestingly, they were more connected physically with the white products, even in the last frame they had to touch the plastic sheet before their hands could meet. What implication does this have on the connections between their minds? I’d eagerly see it again to understand further.

Catch Me is an enigmatic, transient and fertile piece of work that will take on new meanings in different spaces. More importantly, it encourages us to ask ourselves how we connect to fellow human beings; awakening us to the reality that external materialities almost always play a part in obstructing us from coming together.

Images: Warren King Photography.

The Dancing City programme comprised the following work: Amaranthine by Company Chameleon, Why by Gravity & Levity, Dandyism by Patrick Ziza Dance, IRMÃ-sister by DamaeDance, Catch Me by Upswing Aerial, L’Uomo by Lo-Giudice Dance, Rainbow Ballet by Dulce Compania, and Sphera by Humanhood. DAJ sends its thanks to the entire GDIF, Upswing and Lo-Giudice teams <3