BEIRUT: The stage is pitch-black but for a narrow shaft of light, shooting from the rafters. Below is poised the erect form of Carys Staton.
She faces the audience, her body obscured when moving beyond the enclosing column of light and when vague animated forms occasionally move across the spotlight, obstructing her.
Staton’s movement is restricted, as if proscribed both by lighting and soundtrack – resembling the sonar pings of the mysteriously disappeared Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370. Within the confines of light and sound that mark the early moments of the work, her minimalist footwork and gestures are reminiscent of Yang-style tai chi chuan.
Apparently entitled “Two” – the show’s program betrays no signs of OCD-driven performance vivisection – this solo is the opening number of “Still Current.” The critically lauded show is choreographed by the U.K.’s Russel Maliphant and performed here by four members of his company.
This performance graced the boards of the Masrah al-Madina Thursday evening for the opening of BIPOD, the Beirut International Platform of Dance, an event being staged over 10 days at the Madina, Metro al-Madina and Theatre Monnot.
As “Two” ends, the house lights rising upon a smiling Staton, bowing before the capacity audience’s applause, one thing is certain: The utter folly of having a film writer cover an evening of contemporary dance.
Other, more pertinent, elements of “Still Current,” all evident in “Two,” clarify as the show unfolds.
Most obvious is the athleticism and grace of the performers as they navigate Maliphant’s solo, duo and trio choreography.
These works are all intensely collaborative. Accompanying most of Maliphant’s works are original scores by Armand Amar, Andy Cowton and Mukul. Only one piece – the solo work “Afterlight (Part One),” featuring Thomasin Gulgec – is set to an existing score, from the “Gymnopedie” of Erik Satie.
More apparent to neophyte film writers in the audience are the labors of Michael Hulls, Jan Urbanowski and Andy Downie – the technicians who created the piece’s restrained, but elaborate, lighting-projection design-animation-video programming regimen.
Always mutable – both in the size of the stage area available for dancers to navigate and the shadows cast by the fluid animation obscuring the stage – this lighting regime is usually more present than the score, contending with the dancers themselves for control of the space.
The lighting serves to conceal as much as to illuminate.
This is true in “Two” but also the solo-cum-duo “Still,” in which strips of light and shadow repackage the stage, and the form of soloist Dickson Mbi, to resemble a shifting bar code.
Generous for much of “Afterlight (Part One),” in its final seconds the lighting design collapses into a single point of light at center stage, toward which Gulgec extends his hands – a bit like the lone survivor of a plane crash, about to drown in the spotlight of a search-and-rescue helicopter.
In the gamelan-driven duet “Still Current,” featuring Staton and Adam Kirkham, the lighting embraces both dancers until literally bifurcating the stage into two strips, each containing a lone dancer.
Since the Masrah al-Madina’s subterranean performance hall is cloaked in blackness for most of “Still Current,” the collateral damage of the show’s lighting design arises from offstage.
Mysteriously compelled to remind themselves what they’re watching this instant, several audience members ignite their smartphones’ flashlight app midshow, causing temporary retina damage among other members of the public.
“An evening of duets and trios” and solos, “Still Current” makes no pretense of representing anything as vulgar as a single unified “narrative.” Rather than ignoring the audience’s applause at the end of each segment, the dancers gamely remained on stage to take individual, duet or trio bows.
When the eponymous number ended the show, the ensemble did not return to the stage for a final curtain call – as if concerned the audience expected them to extemporize another dance or two.
This critically acclaimed bouquet of lovely choreography and masterful technical collaboration – gracefully performed with athletic prowess by this able troupe of dancers – left some at the Masrah al-Madina audience feeling less than exultant.
Highlighting the hegemony of light, the devisors of “Still Current” might be suggesting something about the gloomy and alienating state of the world nowadays – that what beauty can be found is a proscribed, isolated, inherently noncohesive thing.
Then again, film writers do tend to project.
BIPOD continues Saturday and Sunday with “Hibr” (Ink), a collaboration between Maqamat Dance Theater and Marcel Leemann Physical Dance Theater.