First published in The Times, Tuesday July 5 2016
The new work from Edinburgh-based choreographer Rob Heaslip creeps up on its audience with cunning stealth. It opens quietly and in semi-darkness, with the dancers bunched together and entwined: they pulse as one to the beat like a human heart. As the show’s subtitle implies, it takes a while to discern quite what we’re looking at, the gender of the dancers or even the number of people onstage, but by the end of the 50-minute piece, it has become increasingly hard to resist getting caught up in its every nuance.
Heaslip’s practice explores cause-and-effect in human relationships, and there are moments, particularly in the opening stages, when the movement is reminiscent of children taking their first tentative steps independent of their parents. The group breaks apart, forcing the individual performers into a series of ungainly displays, every limb and digit in rapid, jagged motion, as though exhaustively trying to achieve some kind of equilibrium or stability.
Pic: Sid Scott
A pattern emerges, of the circle repeatedly forming, releasing bodies and coming together again, much in the manner of a family or community. One or two of the solo passages are sweet and comic, but there are stretches in which the clipped, relentless movement becomes almost unbearable, with the experience made all the more intense by Ross Whyte’s insistent soundtrack.
There is something admirable, however, about Heaslip’s refusal to pander to his audience’s desire for any kind of fluidity, sensuality or easy resolution. We come to appreciate the odd moments of respite, as in the sudden unexpected addition of a lift or a few seconds of loose-limbed abandon. The atmospheric lighting, designed by Rob Moloney, offers a distinct counterpoint to the uncompromising choreography, as do Aaron Jeffrey’s summery costumes.
Pic: Sid Scott
FREAGRA (from the Irish word for “response”) is a commission for Glasgow’s Tramway, and with its increasingly urgent tug on our attention, Heaslip’s piece does have the effect of reducing the warehouse-like surrounds of the venue’s main theatre space to a more intimate size, until we feel almost immersed in the action. The ending provides some much-needed catharsis and a gradual release, as the dancers slowly return to their starting point, the lights come down and the tension in our own bodies finally relaxes.