maliphantworks3: The Space Between

I like Russell Maliphant. I really do. I have been an ardent fan for almost twenty years now, since I first saw his work when he started collaborating with Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, founders of Ballet Boyz and George Piper Dances. And of course the wonderful work with Sylvie Guillem, whose lithe, long-limbed body was the perfect tool for Maliphant. The freshness of his approach at that time was unquestioned. His language was new and exciting. The transfer and release of kinetic energy through flow, inversion and rotation. The influence of capoeira and the Rolphing method of bodywork. The innovative partnering and the role of the male dancer. The utilitarian clothing. The long-term collaboration with Michael Hulls, where lighting became an integral and crucial part of movement and performance. I really, really do like Russell Maliphant.  

Yet I was left frustrated by The Space Between, his new work produced with his wife and long-term collaborator, Dana Fouras, and video artist Panagiotic Tomaras. Usually when one looks at the corpus of work by a choreographer, in this case spanning some two decades, one sees progression. Vocabulary and syntax become both refined and expanded. Elements present in previous work are developed and explored. By reflecting back on earlier works, one may identify the seeds that have germinated and flourished as the choreographer has grown and matured. But sadly not here. This choreography felt frozen in time. The vocabulary and syntax were the same.  The movement was the same, albeit at a slower and more sedate pace. The clever use of lighting did nothing to hide this.

The second half of the evening consisted of a duet between Maliphant and Fouras and two short films simply named: Film One and Film Two. Each film took a single aspect of movement and stretched it to breaking point. Film One featured Fouras with loosened hair and dressed in flowing robes, repeatedly twirling in slow motion. Film Two saw Maliphant partially suspended on a bungee experimenting with the weight transfer opportunities this allowed him. The audience was non-plussed and applause was hesitant and muted. Exploration of movement is vital to artistic creation. But it does not in itself make a performance.

Fouras and Maliphant performed all four pieces and the connection between them, not simply as collaborators but as life partners, is evident bringing a quiet intensity and understanding to their work. To see them perform again was a genuine pleasure and a lesson in the power of understatement. Nevertheless, I left frustrated. Maliphant’s contribution to contemporary dance and his influence on choreography is clear and unquestioned. Yet where other choreographers grow and develop, remaining new and fresh, Maliphant appeared stuck.

maliphantworks3 featuring The Space Between, Film One, Film Two and Duet is showing at The Coronet Theatre until 22 February.

Kate Coleman is a member of DanceGrist.