‘Anima’, by Joli Vyann

Review from: Southbank Centre, London International Mime Festival; 23rd January 2020

Olivia Quayle and Jan Patzke of Joli Vyann are two performers obsessed with breath. It is fair to say they may think about breathing far more than anyone else. Their latest show Anima, performed at the London International Mime Festival, is all about it. Even the name Anima means breath (Latin, meaning soul or breath).

Anima uses dance, acrobatic movement and live music to shape breathing exercises and techniques into a show. A show following two people connecting physically and emotionally, developing a relationship and sharing their breath.

The research for this show involved training hyperventilating whilst dancing, using breathing techniques favoured by free-divers and cold training (which involves gently introducing your body to extreme cold temperatures of water). From these practises, Joli Vyann have built routines that challenge the idea of what a body can and can’t do when the breath is restricted or highly controlled. Often during the show you will find yourself holding your own breath at times!

There are some lovely sequences here that see the combination of contemporary dance and acrobatics. Throws and catches of both performers blend into twirls and lifts. There’s excellent steady balance in two high. The pair come from very different backgrounds, Olivia from gymnastics and dance, and Jan from martial arts and stunt work. These two different origins do not hamper the show, but in fact enhance its variety of movement. You can see in each of them how they bring what they’ve learned together to make something new.

The music is performed live by artist Nao Masuda who dances between piano, taiko drum, and xylophone with ease. She creates a fluctuating sound scape for the performers to inhabit. She is clearly highly skilled on many instruments and she brings an urgency to the movements and breathing throughout the show. It’s nice to see a duo open up their onstage presence and let Nao be a full part of the show, interweaving with various instruments, stepping in and out of them as they dance. She also supplies Olivia and Jan with instruments of their own, creating a very memorable moment in the show where balance and breath are combined in order to make beautiful music.

The dynamic of the piece – one man one woman, they see each other, love, hate, back to love – isn’t exactly new. The idea of being a duo and doing a performance about a relationship also feels a bit tried and tested. They may push the limits with their bodies and their breathing but the theme of relationship stays safely in the ‘expected’ category. This could be why having Nao as a presence in the show helps mix it up a bit.

Overall this show isn’t breaking any ground with its story or tricks but it continues to breathe life into the company’s established mix of circus and contemporary dance.

Online programme notes linked here

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