sun 19/05/2024

Tom Dale Company, The Place review - immersive and genre-busting | reviews, news & interviews

Tom Dale Company, The Place review - immersive and genre-busting

Tom Dale Company, The Place review - immersive and genre-busting

Dazzling, ingenious, thought provoking - a big thumbs-up to the digital revolution

Digital human: Jemima Brown in 'Surge' by Tom Dale CompanyImage: Alice Underwood

With all the talk – and, frankly, fear – around AI and the increasing dominance of the digital world, it’s fascinating to see what dance has to say about it.

Although choreographers have been playing with avatars and movement sensors for a couple of decades now (Merce Cunningham and Wayne McGregor come to mind), Tom Dale is something of a rarity in setting his entire focus on digital interaction, seeking out specialists in digital projection and digitally generated music to collaborate with on equal terms. And while one always hesitates to proclaim the novelty of anything, still less a new art form, I can say with conviction that I’ve never seen anything like Surge, the mind-blowing opener to Tom Dale Company’s current double bill, on tour in the UK until May.

At first, it’s all about pattern, as six white hexagons trip the light fantastic around the floor like waltzing debutantes. Then Jemima Brown appears, a buzz-cut androgyne in dazzling white athletic gear, a stripe of warpaint bisecting her face from brow to chin. As she stands, marooned on a diminishing island of fizzing matter that looks like something more often seen down a microscope, she sings. It’s a soft, breathy, all-human sound that cuts through the dense layers of synthesised sound (Ital Tek was commissioned to supply the score). Not all the lyrics are distinct, but the words “feel” and “senses” feature, as does the mournful phrase “born too late” – too late for what? Too late to enjoy the wonders of a functioning natural world; too late to be fully human?Jemima Brown in 'Surge'As Brown sings, the floor morphs through a succession of organic imagery (digital design: Barret Hodgson) suggesting lapping seawater, seething lava, wind-tossed leaf litter. At one point the floor appears to tilt as well as spin, to the extent that we lose our sense of where the floor is, and the lone human figure’s relation to it. As the piece continues its relentless surge (the title is apt), Brown – a never less than mesmerising figure (main picture, and above) – starts to lose aspects of her humanity, her movements increasingly robotic. The floor is by now a riot of tessellated pattern exploding and reforming with each thudding musical beat. The climax, when it comes, is both thrilling and frightening, as Brown's stuttered "losing m-y c-c-c-onnection" warns of impending malfunction, and her body judders violently, for a scarily long time, before being snuffed out in darkness. Members of Tom Dale Dance Company in Sub-VersionThe other half of the bill, "Sub-Version", is a sequence of 10 linked dance sketches with a more clubby, hypnotic feel. For this the apparently tireless Brown is joined by four other dancers moving, often in impressive sync, to ambient music from a recent album by WEN. Now the choreography (pictured above) is noticeably more slow-slung and wide-flung, with the arms getting a massive workout. Kneepads are essential kit, as the dancers spend much of their time sliding or skidding or collapsing on to them. But this is principally a piece about pleasure in movement.

In one section, a guy’s shoulders seem to turn to jelly, his elbows too, in a prolonged shiver of ecstatic liberation. In another, a dancer’s arms whir so fast that they generate a halo like a Catherine wheel. There is cleverness, too, as the dancers, lined up in a row, perform a synchronised sequence, each in turn plucked out of darkness to form a flowing solo line. It's a simple enough trick of lighting, but superbly done. How good it is that, for once, small regional theatres will have the chance of seeing such leading-edge excellence. All power (and help with the electric bills) to Tom Dale and his crew.

I’ve never seen anything like 'Surge', the mind-blowing opener to Tom Dale Company’s current double bill

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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