Pros: Original and stunning work, the product of the festival’s generous principles towards new artists.
Cons: At times the innovative staging hinders rather than helps the performances.
Wilton’s Music Hall is a wondrous tiny empire of creativity tucked away in a less than trendy part of the East End. Squeezed on all sides by the trendy bits, Tower Hamlets nonetheless stubbornly clinging to its own lack of trendiness – I live nearby. It suits me. Currently undergoing a two-year project to renovate the building, they haven’t let that massive undertaking prevent them from artistic ambitions like staging a free dance festival in support of new choreographers. Wilton’s Strike! dance festival presents a series of new work devised specifically for the space in a range of styles.
As the audience enters for the first piece, choreographer Elise Nuding is already onstage working with some coiled ropes. Each seat has a small length of twine on it, looped and knotted in a unique way. This precision and attention to detail is evident throughout Nuding’s work Shift, Spin, Warp, Twine. The focus is on the gestures of rope-making: coiling, threading, untangling, and picking away superfluous fibres. Nuding finds movement in binding herself up in ropes, disentangling herself, and replicating these gestures in more and more abstract forms. The ropes themselves have a particular and evocative smell, like a bonfire. It is a rare pleasure in the performing arts to find a work that engages you in such a multi-sensory way.
Though like all pieces in the festival this is a site-specific work, there are some elements that don’t seem to work well with the space. The stage has been shifted partly onto the auditorium floor for the festival, creating a deep well of steep sight lines for the audience on all sides. Much of Nuding’s choreography is prostrate on the floor, meaning that at any given time at least part of the audience is guaranteed an obscured view. Considering that much of the piece is also not set to music, there isn’t a great deal for the audience to focus on during the periods where they can’t see anything.
The second piece of the evening Please Wait Whilst We Try to Connect You dovetails neatly with the theme of Nuding’s work as it is also concerned with the motions of ‘work.’ Choreographer Jo Meredith and writer/dramaturge Sean Bruno’s piece on our engagement with technology will look very familiar to anyone who spends time swiping, pinch-zooming, pressing the little glass-covered machines that run our lives. Jack Jones and Luke Clarke perform as a pair, one representing the person pushing the buttons and the other representing the technological avatar who responds accordingly. Grace Hann and Katherine Kingston follow suit, giving the fascinating illusion in places of being a duet instead of an ensemble.
Of course, our devices do not always respond as we expect and they sometimes appear to take on lives of their own, often at the most inconvenient moments. So it is here. Another strength of this piece is seeing those gestures that we all make so familiarly taken out of context and examined for their own merits. For urban technophiles like many of you reading this, the range of motion required for everyday life is probably rather limited. It is easy to forget what we are actually, physically, doing. Few people are asking whether the gestures we use for the purpose of moving a file on a screen or opening an email are the right ones, and whether these can have fuller meanings than the mundane ones we associate with those motions now. Meredith and Bruno’s work brilliantly highlights this.
Together the two pieces highlight the shifting nature of everyday movements and their grander expressive qualities when used in a different way. The innovative spirit of the Strike! festival is evident in both pieces and it will be interesting to see how the festival develops in future years.
Choreographers: Elise Nuding (Shift, Spin, Warp, Twine) Jo Meredith (Please Wait Whilst We Try to Connect You)
Author/Dramaturge: Sean Bruno (Please Wait Whilst We Try to Connect You)
Festival Technical Director: Jody Kelly
Produced by: Becky Ruffell
Box Office: 020 7702 2789
Booking Link: http://wiltons.org.uk/
Booking Until: 27 September