The New Adelphi Theatre, Salford; Thursday 29th November, 2018
2018/19 is the inaugural year of the University of Salford’s MA in Dance Performance and Professional Practice – a new degree programme which prepares graduate dance students for the rigours of a professional career in performance art.
The MA syllabus being delivered bridges the gap between academic learning and vocational practice through membership of Emergence – an exciting new contemporary dance company which is led by the students themselves.
Performed at the New Adelphi Theatre in the heart of the University’s campus, the debut show from Emergence is a double-bill comprised of two innovative new pieces which are both born from the the result of collaboration between the student performers and experienced professional choreographers.
And Still I Walk is a flowing and enigmatic work choreographed by Sharon Watson, Artistic Director of Phoenix Dance Theatre. Inspired by one hundred years of the women’s suffrage movement, the performance features six dancers and seems to be an exploration of the persistence and tenacity of those who fought for equality.
With elegant costumery from the early 20th century, the focus of the piece is heavily on shoes and footwear. Each dancer removes her shoes and abandons them on stage, but then she eventually returns to them; as well as swapping them with those of the other performers. An abstract symbolism begins to emerge once the title of the piece is considered: these women will march onwards, and they’ll do it together.
On stage a large metal fence hangs from the rear and over time individual shoes are hung from it. These are not particularly elegant or fashionable pieces of footwear, they seem to be far more functional: sensible shoes that might be good for walking, or sturdy boots that look as if they will survive a long journey. The fence seems to represent restriction and resistance yet as it swings incredibly slowly from side to side as it hangs there are beautifully hypnotic moments when individual dancers appear to carefully synchronise their movements in harmony with it.
And Still I Walk starts at a frantic pace and has a powerful musical score to accompany it, strangely reminiscent of the kind of “big” music that you’d expect at the start of a big-budget action movie at the cinema. The pace then drops, almost to a complete stop in the middle, which slightly disturbs the overall emotional experience.
The artistic delivery is outstanding with beautifully synchronised movements as a group and flawlessly elegant individual performances. Overall this is a piece that seems to exude a sense of uncertain urgency and anxiety, there is a strange feeling of apprehension running through the performance thanks to the mystery of the shoes being used as props and the rapid changes in tempo.
When Worlds Collide is a dark and powerful piece of choreography by Joss Arnott, Artistic Director of Joss Arnott Dance, and also day-to-day lead for the artistic components of the MA degree programme at the University of Salford.
The stage is busy: twelve performers clad in black leotards move in and out of the shadows as a thick haze reduces visibility and thus increases the tension. The visual effects are outstanding, with lighting effects being cast from multiple angles. Most striking are the large and foreboding shadows projected into the foggy haze, almost creating a sense that the stage might be infinite, given that the rear and sides could not be seen. Also of note are the actual colours used in the lighting – mostly intensely dark autumnal reds, greens and blues which emptied the performance space and strongly centred attention on each dancer’s movements.
Also outstanding is the music, all of it set at heartbeat pace – though this meant the full spectrum of human heartbeat pace ranging from a sedentary crawl through to a much higher energy level of exertion. The constant presence of a reverberating bass drum vibrating through the seats of the theatre served to add a touch of fear to this performance, injecting a thrilling sense of panic as to what might emerge from the shadows next.
As with the performance of And Still I Walk, the artistic delivery is outstanding, with incredible synchronicity for the group movements and highly creative individual performances that merged in and out of the overall flow of the piece.
The visual and audio effects of When Worlds Collide seem to produce the overall experience of a thriller, this is a piece with an almost dream-like quality given that the stage is ill-defined thanks to the thick haze and the fact that the performers emerge from (and disappear back into) the darkness creating a sense of ephemeral and temporary mystery.
The double-bill of And Still I Walk and When Worlds Collide will embark on a national tour in early 2019, returning to Greater Manchester at the Waterside Arts theatre in Sale.
Photography: Drew Forsyth