Collins’ vocabulary for her Awakenings in part takes its idea from one patient, who described her illness as – rather than of standing still as it may appear – running out of space to move in.
Collins presents the dancers entwined in intricate locks, as if their minds were running ahead of their bodies; sometimes she shows them going about their daily business, only to freeze suddenly, as in a surreal game of musical statues. Later, when the drug’s effects are found to be only temporary, the audience senses the dancers’ loss of direction and it feels as though they are regressing.
This sense of the fragmented lives these survivors lead is heightened by the music, which opens with a series of dramatic chords of differing volumes, like unexpected bouts of sickness. Tobias Picker's score changes constantly to reflect the frenzied tics and compulsions of the dancers: the tinkly triangle acts as the melodic equivalent of one dancer’s mania, while another’s strange contortions are accompanied by thundery, Liszt-esque piano notes. An oddly slippery floor adds to this further, as if the dancers don’t know what they are capable of or how far they will go.
Henrietta Horn’s Cardoon Club closes this year’s mixed bill. A glorious pastiche of the late 1960s and early 1970s, there are small references everywhere: basslines reminiscent of Shaft here, a sex kitten, much like Barbarella there. On a stage lined with beaded curtains, set against bright multi-coloured lights that evoke a 70s nightclub complete with a somewhat tongue-in-cheek score by Benjamin Pope, the result is a bit cabaret, a bit camp, and totally preposterous.
In one particular section, as surreal as it sounds, the audience is essentially watching some very well trained dancers performing a series of classical ballet movements – assemblés, échappés, petite batterie – using drumsticks. But as amusing as Cardoon Club was, one is left waiting for all this build-up to lead to something more substantial - something that never comes. There’s a lot of a posing and a lot of hip-shaking, but it feels like a joke that has gone on for too long.
Opening the programme was the return of Christopher Bruce’s Hush. Like most of Bruce’s work, it is a technically challenging and aesthetically pleasing piece of work that can be enjoyed – loved, even – by people who don’t know anything about dance
Much of Hush plays out like a Keystone film. At the beginning, a family – their faces painted white, some with exaggerated red cheeks, in circus outfits – hold their poses constantly, as if waiting to ‘cut’ to words on a screen like in a silent film (that technique, of course, has already been used in Bruce’s excellent Cruel Garden). One scene featuring the boys on a hunt for flies not only encapsulates the slapstick element of these old films, but also highlights how easy these dancers make the super-fast tours en l’air, windmills and high leaps appear.
We love films from Chaplin et al because, amid the silliness and the puppet-like characters, they are filled with a deep sense of humanity, and this is precisely what Hush gets right. The quirky soundtrack – an album by Yo-Yo Ma and Bobby McFerrin, whose title is the namesake of the dance – helps, but Hush engages with its audience and gets the loudest laughs of the evening because the characters, underneath all their make-up, seem like real people.