Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

This Bright Field

Theo Clinkard and Leah Marojevic
Brighton Festival, Dance4, Greenwich Dance & Trinity Laban Partnership, The Lowry and Tramway
The Quays Theatre, The Lowry, Salford
31 October 2017 to 01 November 2017

Theo Clinkard takes as much care staging his shows as he does choreographing them. The last time he had a show at The Lowry it was staged not in one of the conventional theatres but in The Compass Room high above the venue.

There is an experimental feeling to the opening of This Bright Field so it is likely the outcome will vary from venue to venue. At The Lowry, although Clinkard has attracted a varied cosmopolitan audience, the outcome is decidedly muted. In effort to push the audience outside their comfort zone and encourage the use of senses other than seeing (specifically touch) the audience is escorted on-stage to watch the dancers perform, in close proximity and through shifting panels, and possibly form a physical relationship with them. The audience is close enough to touch or be touched by the cast but whether this promotes the use of senses other than seeing is debatable. Patrons touching the dancers seem more amused by, than engaged in, the experiment.

The second half of This Bright Field is staged in a conventional manner with the cast on stage and the audience seated in the auditorium. Even so the barrier between performers and audience is breached with the barefoot cast entering through the theatre and spilling off stage at the climax. In what may well be a first Stephanie McMann, one of the dancers, is pregnant.

This Bright Field comprises three pieces; two of them concerning types of struggle while the third is celebratory. Against composer James Keane’s sonic blast of white noise the cast make painful incremental progress inching across the stage as if struggling against the elements. The stop/start advance/retreat of the dancers is reflected in the choreography with movements twitchy and spasmodic and progress being made through agonised slow-motion rolls; the pace is stately but hardly restful.

The second dance, in which the dancers struggle ungainly to retain their balance, initially brings to mind the trauma of birth especially as the cast are all nude. Yet as the dance progresses the keening cries emitted by the cast and their frustration, shown in slapping their skin, suggests a more likely theme is the difficulty in communicating or making a connection. The cast clinging together and singing in one voice suggests that, by the end, at least a connection has been made.

James Keane’s score is varied moving from industrial sonic attack in the first dance to a more oriental tone for the second and wonderful pounding drums for the third. The cast also seem to have adopted an Eastern perspective for the closing number as their costumes resemble Samurai uniforms albeit formed from what look like cast-off sleeping bags. The climax is a straightforward full-on rave with the company in tribal mood cutting loose for all they are worth. It brings to a rousing conclusion a dance piece that is highly engaging if a little puzzling at times.

Reviewer: David Cunningham