Dance Review






Spring Dance at London Coliseum

Presented by Askonas Holt, Raymond Gubbay and Sadler’s Wells.


two: four: ten

Russell Maliphant

London Coliseum

7 – 11 April 2009





1ary Couzens

A review by Alice MacKenzie for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Russell Maliphant’s dancers flow over each other like honey, echoing each others shapes with a sense of timing and precision that is deeply pleasing to watch. Like a sigh. The evening is a series of short but well formed duets which look purely and beautifully at what it is to be two bodies sharing the same space.

two: four: ten is a retrospective evening in which most of the four pieces shown are close to ten years old. Seeing them together, one after the other gives the audience a chance to see Maliphant’s preoccupations and a hint at his way of working. Most of the works pivot around a single motif: two dancers hang off of each others arms, the counterbalance keeping them connected; two dancers swing their arms around each other side by side. The dancers follow the logic of their momentum, or the flow of their energy to build the motif, allowing it to change and repeat in such a way as to create a sense of watching a powerful rhythm. Rhythm and timing are important to Maliphant and it is partly this that makes the pieces so satisfying to watch.

Knot (2001) is the first work in the program and draws attention to the rhythm and repetition with a simple drum beat score by Matteo Fargion. It felt a little bit of a shame that the music was not live as at times the resonance of the drums felt flat in such a big space: The London Coliseum is a theatre built to carry live sound powerfully.  The dancers seem to push the space open with the energy of their limbs as Michael Hulls’ lighting changes the size and shape of the space to echo the choreography. Daniel Proietto, a dancer from Maliphant’s regular company, makes his first appearance of the night and is lovely to watch as he moves joyfully through a style that seems to resonate with his own body. 

There is something quite moving in seeing two people tap into each others rhythms and energy.  Russell Maliphant seems essentially interested in this special energy. He plays with what it means to be two men as in Knot and Critical Mass, or a man and a woman as in Sheer.

Sheer (2001) was originally made for Maliphant and Dana Fouras, his off-stage partner. In two: four: ten another couple perform the work: Thomas Edur and Agnes Oaks of the English National Ballet.  Maliphant draws shapes with the tension that forms in the spaces between them: the echoed shapes where they are not touching, but where you can almost hear the concentration with which they are listening to each others movements. Sarah Sarhandi’s haunting and slightly creepy score creates a quiet and interesting atmosphere with an ambiguous message. Does the female voice say that “She always wanted to be heard”? Or “hurt?” Or something else that I missed entirely…? Edur and Oaks do touch, and when they do it is with tenderness and ease. Michael Hulls’ lighting is again important to the meaning of the movement. The couple’s bodies create shadows against the walls of this huge and mostly empty space. The shadows move together to become one body, or shrink to something tiny and fragile as the couple walk backwards away from the light looking like two small bodies alone in the world. Sheer is an unashamedly romantic work without any sense of acting. The dancers do not try to show an intimacy. The choreography allows their intimacy to become apparent.

Michael Hulls has collaborated with Russell Maliphant as a lighting designer for over ten years and his evocative lighting seems to be built into the choreography. Although Maliphant seems chiefly interested in the relationships between people and bodies, he also retains a strong aesthetic style that does not stray completely from the classical world in which he first trained. Lines of the body are elongated and feet remain pointed. Hulls’ lighting throws shadows that emphasise the athletic forms of the dancers and bathe them in warm gold.

The importance of the light to movement is especially clear in Two x Two (this version, 2009). This piece is set apart from the others in that the two dancers (Proietto and Dana Fouras) remain in their separate boxes of light, connected only by ta shared sense of timing and echoing forms. The light boxes are created by a strong top-light and Dana Fouras contorts and distorts her body as her limbs disappear in to the deep shadows created by her own back. But that’s not the real fun of the light boxes.  As the dancers move their arms and bodies with increasing speed, the quality of the light leaves trails like sparklers, or like a photographic image where the camera lens has been left open for two long. This effect is purely about speed, strength and energy. Watching it I have a feeling of repetition as I have seen this lighting effect used before in a similar way. That is the strange thing with retrospectives: at times they can feel clichéd, although often that may be because something that was new and original 10 years ago has inspired numerous similar ideas since. I think that I have even seen a previous incarnation of this work for one person, so the effect is not quite as powerful as it once was for me. However Two x Two gave me a chance to remember why that lighting effect has been so recreated so often. It does work.

The final piece in the program was the longest and perhaps the most eagerly anticipated. Critical Mass (1998) brought Russell Maliphant to the stage in a duet with Adam Cooper. Adam Cooper came into the public eye when he created the charismatic role of The Swan/Stranger in Matthew Bourne’s now classic 1994 male Swan Lake. It was shame then that this was also the most disappointing piece of the night. Maliphant and Cooper never quite seemed able to ‘click-in’ to each other in the way that had made the other works of the evening so satisfying to watch. The interval was longer than programmed and the audience were beginning to get a little itchy, and I begun to wonder if there was something wrong. When the pair did arrive on stage Adam Cooper seemed a little uncomfortable next to the fluid Maliphant, and I kept hoping that he would warm into the movement but he never quite managed to. There was cheering from the auditorium at the end of the half an hour, but for me the performers never managed to find that special something that Maliphant’s choreography pivots around. Cooper and Maliphant did not seem to find each others rhythm and energy in order to transcend the steps, and so it left me feeling as though they were going through the motions. The piece remained flat: a series of contact improvisation lifts and amusing tango riffs. And yet Cooper is a powerful performer when in more comfortable ground…

None-the-les Russell Maliphant presents a beautiful program of dance in two: four: ten. Maliphant was shot to mainstream fame when he was singled out by Silvie Guillem – the last ballet superstar – to make a work on her. This evening is a chance for audiences to see work from before the years of fame, when he was forging his own style on a small company, and was curious about what it is to be two bodies together.


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Tickets:  £15 - £55

London Coliseum

St. Martin’s Lane, Trafalgar Square, WC2N 4ES







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