Press @ Gate Theatre, London

choreographed and performed by
Pierre Rigal
A man in a black suit stands in a white room. He spins on the spot, hands skimming the ceiling, body flexing and quivering to the beat of the music. Then, slowly, ominously, the ceiling starts to descend.

This dance piece, choreographed and performed by Pierre Rigal was specially commissioned for the Gate Theatre, a venue even its artistic directors refer to as a magic shoebox. Rigal has responded to the challenge of designing a work for such a small space, by reducing the area in which he performs even further.

As the box grows smaller, the ceiling gradually lowering, Rigal contorts his body in increasingly amazing ways. He appears to be pulled this way and that by unseen magnetic forces, his limbs adhering to the sides of his shrinking cell.

There is something very cinematic about the piece. The claustrophobic set up brings to mind any number of old school action movies where the hero finds the walls closing in on him, but there is also a strong element of sci-fi to the set up, not to mention a touch of Buster Keaton in Rigals inventive physicality. Towards the end, as the ceiling lowers further it starts to bring to mind a horror movie, as the space in which the man is trapped becomes increasingly coffin-like.

If that sounds unbearably intense, thats to do this piece a disservice. Its actually often very funny, triggering peals of laughter in the audience. Rigals hypnotic, robotic movements are often as comic as they are visually striking, whether he is nonchalantly placing his hands in his pockets while standing on his head or suddenly appearing to have no head at all. A surveillance camera sits on the wall of his cell, watching, recording his every move; at one point he pulls it down to the floor and appears to befriend it as one would a stray cat, before it turns on him.

But even at its most gleefully inventive, the piece never shakes the underlying inevitability of that sinking ceiling, the sense that the man cant win, cant escape it, no matter how he twists and bends and jitters it will beat him in the end. The last few minutes, with Nihil Borduress crunching, specially commissioned soundscape reaching a crescendo, are as tense as dance theatre gets.

The piece lasts for just 50 minutes and I suspect thats just about as long as it would be possible to sustain the idea, but it understands its limitations and works with them.

Its a hard work to do justice to with words. Written down I suspect it sounds trite and gimmicky, but thats just not so. The piece evokes so many responses, taps into so many ideas and feelings, its necessary to see it for yourself to full understand.

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