You know when something is so clear in your mind, so absolutely crystal clear that you can't even imagine anybody else not seeing it in the same way? So it must have been with choreographer Alexander Whitley when conceiving his new work, 8 Minutes, a reference to the time it takes the light from the sun to reach the earth.
An ambitious attempt at marrying solar science and dance, Whitley’s hour-long piece aims to trace the creation of stars, in particular our own star, the sun, widening the scope to the universe itself, and then looking at it all from the perspective of the earth.
8 MInutes starts with what seems to be a snatch of a science lecture on voice over. We are told that points of view matter when examining phenomena and, perhaps more relevant to what we are about to see, that 'individual dots add up to some kind of sense.'
At this point the seven dancers of the Alexander Whitley Dance Company, clad in vaguely futuristic shiny black costumes adhering so completely to their bodies they look like second skins, start moving. They are very much 'individual dots' clustered together; and their to-ing and fro-ing slow movement, centred on weaving torsos and waving arms, gives the idea of a primordial soup from which stars will eventually emerge.
Eventually. This section is far too long and even though the video projections, a specially commissioned work by video artist Tal Rosner, change from dots to shafts of white light and eventually trailing lines rather like the traces of falling stars, nothing very interesting is happening with the dancing and you keep hoping they’ll get a move on.
Eventually some shafts of fire are projected onto the back screen, the dancers come apart and you sense something is about to happen, or to be born.
Cue another snatch of the science lecture, this time about the space of the universe being defined partly by the things in that space.
The movement of the dancers is earthbound, with some writhing on the floor and still very dependent on upper arms and torso, but they gain individuality and relate to each other no longer as just part of the mass but as separate particles with much more freedom in their use of space. You could say, perhaps, they are things in space helping to shape and define it.
Until, that is, we enter another section, which may or may not be based on earth, where the movement of the dancers becomes jerky and robotic, and the projections move on to geometric shapes. It seems unclear what the analogy may be.
The choreography then gets intense and agitated: the dancers seem in thrall to something, they take on a worshipping posture. You wonder if perhaps they are now people acknowledging the sun as the giver of energy and life on earth.
Throughout the mostly electronic soundscape created by composer Daniel Wohl makes much use of drawn out chords and some rhythmic thumping, which at times is headache-inducing and doesn’t seem to bear much relation to any kind of narrative other than having a vague feel of space exploration to it.
8 MInutes ends with a captivating image, actual footage of the sun provided by the Oxford solar scientists who collaborated intimately with this project. Set against that fierce image, the final intense, gripping pas-de-deux proves to be perhaps the most interesting bit of the evening’s choreography.
We live in a world where most performances tend to be multi-disciplinary, and video art, conspicuous lighting design and commissioned scores have become very much part of the package of dance works. There's nothing wrong with that. However, surely at the very core of any dance work there must be a distinctive choreography, one that speaks to its audience clearly and engagingly.
This is the main failing of 8 MInutes: that the choreographer was so intent on his ideas, his theory, his fascination with science, that he let his choreographic creativity play second fiddle to everything else. And that fatally skewed this work.
|What||Alexander Whitley, 8 Minutes Review|
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27 Jun 17 – 28 Jun 17, 19:30 Dur 1 hour
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