8 minutes, Alexander Whitley Dance Company

Against a backdrop of vivid colours suggesting speed, depths of space and a huge arid plane is the silhouette of a single man. At his feet another person lies half curled, by the curves we can infer that person is female. The stage surface is also visible.

8 MINUTES, Alexander Whitley Dance Company, 2017, Platform Theatre, London, (c) Johan Persson

The ideas behind Alexander Whitley’s 8 minutes excited me on many levels because, years before becoming a dance expert, I was an astrophysicist. The increasing momentum of other aspects of my life meant I was unable to see the Premier at Saddler’s Wells, so when offered a ticket to see it at Trinity Laban I jumped at the chance.

The show is named for the time it takes photons to reach the earth from the sun, rather than the duration of the performance. It is a collaboration with the solar scientists of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. With an astrophysics degree and extensive knowledge of dance I expected to understand everything as it happened. I didn’t. The entire experience was engrossing and spectacular but the wonderfully resonant spoken quotes confirmed what I had worked out rather than elucidating more.

8 dancers arms akimbo, legs in contorted upside-down vs (all different) are staring slack-jawed with expressions of amazement at something in front of them. Behind them is a huge depiction of the sun including magneto-solar flare, which looks like several superimposed bows tied on the side of the star. Sun and stage are hot reddish-brown colours the background is pitch black and the dancers, in black clinging one-pieces, are seen as silhouetted bodies with detail only visible where their skin shows

8 MINUTES, Alexander Whitley Dance Company, 2017, (c) Johan Persson

The overall impression was a seamless, sometimes sinuous, sometimes jagged impression of atoms, light, energy and people in different states. Whitney’s employment of dancers as conceptual, physical and human bodies (on Earth, at the microcosmic scale and in space, all components of the awe inspiring macrostructure of the universe) combined well with costumes and lighting, and the visuals were so good that they sometimes gave me the impression that I was falling, rolling or retreating from the staged scene.

I particularly liked:
• the quote and accompanying choreography that suggested that humankind, with all its problems and states of conflict could be considered; at a macro level, to be in a state of harmony, and that the world ‘harmony’ was used as opposed to ‘equilibrium’,
• the use of real footage of our huge whirling roiling sun and its magnetosphere,
• the way sound and projections worked together.

I was bothered by:
• the fact that I often forgot the dancers in favour of the visuals.

An all-encompassing, inspirational multi-media experience. Those into dance and dancers only, who want to watch the choreography as it unfolds, are in for a demanding and slightly frustrating ride.


Conventional Media review

In writing this I thought I’d see if I agreed with the published reviews. Judith Mackerell’s glowing praise doesn’t mention the lack of balance of the 3 art forms or even name STFC RAL (how upsetting it must be to initiate such a collaboration and have your organisation’s name ignored!) https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/jun/28/8-minutes-review-alexander-whitley-sadlers-wells-london-cosmic-dance. In a much shorter review, Lindsay Winship; who also enjoyed it, specifies the type of scientists and also where they’re from. https://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/arts/alexander-whitley-dance-company-8-minutes-review-solarpowered-beauty-a3575236.html

Two dancers holding hands, the male to to the righ tis leaning back, legs in a V shape with his head looking straight up (it looks a little stiff), the female in front of him has one leg on the floor and her body is making a c-shape as she reaches back to him, apart from one leg which is pointed straight in front of her at a slight diagonal such that the top of her toe is at the sale level as the male dancers' back

8 MINUTES, Alexander Whitley Dance Company, 2017, (c) Johan Persson


Artistic Director and Choreographer: Alexander Whitley
Video Artist: Tal Rosner
Composer: Daniel Wohl
Lead Scientist: Dr Hugh Mortimer (begs the question, how many scientists were involved?)
Text from: The Universe of Everything by Alan Watts
Performers: Hannah Ekholm, Tia Hockey, Davide ledger, Michael Marquez, Leon Poulton, Victoria Roberts, Caitlin Taylor
Lighting Design: Jackie Shemesh
Dramaturg: Sasha Milavic Davies
Costume Design: Merle Hensel
Assistant to Choreographer: Victoria Roberts
Technical Director: Dom Martin
Technicians: Luca Biada, Sara Ward
Producer: Donna Meierdiercks
Creative Learning Director: Rachel Evans (some development work was undertaken with primary school children, family workshops, students and professional dancers)
Marketing Consultant: Nina Baker
Project Assistant: Emi Del Bene