Review from: CircusFest, ArtsDepot, London; 12th April 2018
Billed as ‘an adventurous and kaleidoscopic cross-art form enquiry into the nature of colour and how we perceive it’, Spring is the third in a triptych of work from Gandini Juggling where the company mixes dance with juggling. Previous shows, 4×4 Ephemeral Architectures and Sigma used ballet and Bharatanatyam respectively to explore how the different forms can compliment and contrast each other. This time around, it is the turn of contemporary dance to share the spotlight, and Sean Gandini has worked alongside choreographer Alexander Whitley to create a show where the boundaries of the two are truly blurred. In the programme notes for Spring, Sean Gandini, director and co-founder of the eponymous company, uses the word ‘flirtations’ to describe these collaborative relationships between art forms. I was certainly flirted with as an audience member, conceptually rather than literally, but I left the theatre feeling a little flat, disappointed that I’d not experienced more passion in my evening.
The nine performers are dressed in shades of silvery grey that change tone according to the constantly shifting lighting states. Designed by Lydia Cawson, the costumes are wondrously eclectic and allow the lines of the performer’s moving bodies to be accentuated without being too clingy or obviously ‘costume’. The choice for all the performers to be wearing socks throughout the show was initially a surprise, but it did make their feet entirely silent despite all the athletic leaping about, which I loved.
The original score by Gabriel Prokofiev (yes, he’s Sergei Prokofiev’s grandson) grates at times, getting in the way of my appreciation of the visual. Perhaps it is just a little too loud? A mix of strings and electronic bleeps and beats, it is definitely not my cup of tea. And, along with some of the choreography, it failed to move me. This show, like other Gandini constructions for the stage, uses a smattering of odd and intriguing text within the chaos of movement and manipulation. The words (and numbers) are delivered with care and humour. And it’s when the performers verbalise that I am most captivated, because as soon as they open their mouths, we get a sense of them as individuals, distinct from the troupe, and people with brains rather than just bodies.
Throughout the show, a black screen slowly lifts at the back of the stage, to reveal a plain white backdrop that continuously displays a variety of gorgeous colours. Scarlet red turns into grass green, into sun yellow, and pale mauve; so many different shades that I just don’t have the words for. Through all the virtuosic juggling and impressive dance, it is the lighting by Guy Hoare that provides the emotional connection to the audience. With no apparent dramatical arc, no build of tension to a final climactic act, the hour-long show is formed out of a series of scenes, seemingly connected only by the use of colours. We hear their names spoken out loud and whispered conspiratorially, we see how green can become red with the magic of lighting, and we witness the simple beauty of a flash of blue amongst a pale monochrome setting. There is a sigh of pleasure from the audience during a particularly pleasing phrase when the all-white rings, juggled side-on so that we clearly see the Os thrown up into the air, are dextrously flipped to reveal their yellow side, tossed high and then flipped back to show only the white side again. Shadows are formed on the backdrop at various points in the show. Bodies, rings, balls and clubs are silhouetted against the changing colours. The juggling of several rings is lit so that four performer’s shadows are repeated five times over, causing each of their three rings to become five, and we become intoxicated by the patterns. Our eyes pass over the performers, drawn to the dancing shadow representations of them behind.
The jugglers are extremely good, as one would expect from the Gandini stable. The hours and hours of practice that must go into learning the (almost) perfect synchronised patterns of object manipulation is evident. Add on top of that the time taken to master the complex movement sequences, and we are presented with circus performers at the opposite end of the scale to the stereotypical image of a juggler as some shuffling overgrown teenager with rounded shoulders and an absence of grace. Whitley’s precision choreography, whilst not exactly to my taste, is impeccable. The performers come and go, in groups and singly, sometimes hunched and tiptoeing across the back of the stage and sometimes moving en masse to the 7/8 rhythms, creating a writhing mess of bodies and juggling props. I have to single out Yu-Hsien Wu and Tia Hockey in particular, executing several intricate and impressive solos and partner pieces with other cast members. I should also praise Tristan Curly for his brilliant comedy timing and dry verbal delivery, and Dominik Harant for the one exceptional moment when a hint of the traditional circus convention of pure skill is allowed as he juggles seven rings (or was it eight?). The whole multi-talented cast appear to be enjoying their time on the stage, which is joyous to watch. There are a few moments when the complexity of the task forces a slightly blank ‘contemporary dance’ face to appear, but these are rare and forgivable.
Spring is a brave and beautiful adventure, a trip to the light fantastic. But, if you like a bit more meat on your bone, then the Gandini’s previous show Sigma offers much more depth and, importantly for me, a sense of connection with its audience.