Emergence | dir. by Joss Arnott | University of Salford

Emergence is an intense and varied trio of performances which showcases some outstanding dance. Devised by Joss Arnott in collaboration with dancers from the University of Salford’s MA Dance Performance and Professional Practices Programme, this memorable production raises urgent political and social questions. The first of the three sections, FUEL, begins with a striking ensemble piece, demonstrating the imaginative reach of Wubje Kuindersma’s choreography. Forming a unit of tessellated limbs, the six dancers become an extraterrestrial creature, as they move mechanically, in unison, across the stage. The eery atmosphere is enhanced by Josh Tomalin’s low-level lighting. Submerging the dancer’s faces in shadow, while their bodies become silhouettes, the lighting reinforces the dehumanising effect of the choreography, which erodes the dancers’ individuality. A jarring musical score heightens this spectral scene. The use of harsh violins intensifies as the dancers attempt to break away from the group formation. Questions of the individual’s role in society are poignantly evoked as the dancers struggle to hold the stage in solo performances. Stumbling and falling as their attempt to self-compose, the pains of a classical dance training are made visible before the individual characters can emerge. Through the representation of this struggle, there is a sense that the poise achieved in dance offers the freedom of expression which enables the dancers to emerge as individual characters. The dancing in this piece is captivating, but this performance is nonetheless an uncomfortable watch. The music builds to a painful crescendo while the harsh white lights shine directly outwards from the bottom of the stage into the audience’s eyes.

The opening of ‘An Event’ provides a refreshing contrast to the bleak monochrome of FUEL. A drastic shift in tone is announced by the blaring hiphop, the dancers’ bright red outfits and their lively chatter. The setting is immediately familiar and grounded, locating us in a party or nightclub setting. While this transition does an important job in indicating this change of scene, establishing the shift away from the abstract and into a more representational and dramatic style, the opening scene is perhaps a little drawn-out. Once the dancing begins, though, the audience are immediately engaged. Combining a mixture of street, hiphop and breakdancing, the dancers demonstrate their individual skill through absorbing solo performances. But jubilant atmosphere is then curtailed by the depiction of a catastrophe, poignantly conveyed through low level red lighting and the sound of a heartbeat. The second half of this piece powerfully contrasts with the first, demonstrating the loss of freedom in the aftermath of disaster. The sense of individuality that was achieved in the first piece is rapidly diminished in this second section. While in FUEL, the dancers struggled to achieve their individuality, ‘An Event’ sees the individual characters – so energetically depicted through the dancers’ hiphop and breakdance solos – being eroded. Their movement becomes static and fragmented, implying a sense of coercion. The now-recognisable image of Margaret Atwood’s handmaidens is cleverly evoked in Rebecca Coleman’s costume design, immediately enhancing the dystopian setting and reinforcing the themes of surveillance and control. Although the ending of this section was perhaps less memorable than that of FUEL, and the transitions into and out of piece could have been stronger, the quality of the dance is difficult to fault.

‘When World Collide’ is the final part of the trio. Although the longest of the three pieces, it holds the audience’s attention throughout. The theme of the individual and collective which permeates show is brought together in this final piece, as the full company of dancers gather for a dramatic ensemble. A fierce drumbeat complements the warlike dance, with the sound of the dancers’ breath enchanting the visceral quality of their movement. Strength and agility marks the entire piece, with formidable performances from the entire company, and a stand-out performance from Wenwen Wang. Shifting back into the abstract, this final piece creates a circular structure which ties all three sections together. The intensity of this final performance is testament to the emotive power of the entire production. Emergence is wholly compelling; thoughtful choreography ensuring that all three works feel relevant, and at times even urgent, and the quality of the dance showcases some remarkable talent.

Emergence will be touring in 2020, with a performance at Waterside Arts in Sale on 21st March

by Imogen Durant

Dancer: Wenwen Wang in Joss Arnott’s When Worlds Collide
Photo Credit: Josh Hawkins

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