Tamara Rojo, probably the best known Spanish dancer in Britain, has famously criticised the lack of dance scene in her home country, accusing its government of refusing to put money into the arts.
Thomas Noone Dance, which made its UK debut at the Purcell Room at the South Bank’s Queen Elizabeth Hall this week, indicates that there is a budding domestic scene developing.
The first piece of the evening, Crush, is loosely based on the novel, Stella Descending, by Linn Ullman: a series of soliloquies and dialogues in the aftermath of the title character’s suspicious death.
To summarise it as such perhaps makes the piece sound a little daunting. But that was not the case. The choreography itself was superb, comprising mostly perilous lifts, dives, falls and possibly a Noone signature move, 90 back arch. This is all beautifully performed by the lead females, Alba Barral and Anna Caceres.
In Ullman’s novel, the reader is unsure of what the ‘truth’ is, as the story is essentially told through different perspectives. This is quite cleverly conveyed in several sections of Crush (especially the last). Duets are performed in unison, but at different angles, with the females literally sprinting across the stage to swap partners: there is no concrete truth, just different viewpoints, which sometimes agree with one another.
One thing Noone is fond of is the comic interlude. In Crush, we see the two females propping up two very dead looking males, playing with them as if they were puppets. Though amusing to watch it has a clear meaning: what is considered truth is also dependent on how it is manipulated.
Noone has said he did not want to reduce Crush to a crude piece of storytelling-using-mime, but that he wanted the audience to understand the narrative. However I must admit to being confused in places in terms of following the narrative of the piece. Perhaps the answer lies in Beckett, whose quotation Noone uses: “The expression that there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express.”
This quote originated in a conversation with George Duthuit about art, which appeared in Three Dialogues. Prior to that well known statement, Beckett spoke of his dislike for art that was weary of doing a little better the same old thing, of going a little further along a dreary road. In other words, he wanted art that would go that bit further, that could progress, improve, evolve. This Noone has achieved and the man must be congratulated for that.
The second and final piece of the evening used a concept not unlike that of Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Ftil charts the dissolution of a relationship in reverse order, starting from the end and working backwards to the happy beginning. Here Noone takes the stage himself opposite long-time collaborator, Nria Martnez.
The piece starts, naturally, with Noone alone on stage, before Martnez is introduced, also alone. The sombre opening piano score accompanied the dancers who, despite being on stage together, dance alone. The two slowly come together as a couple, portrayed in different styles of duets that become increasingly intimate, and ending with the most intimate of all: the couple shed their clothes, locked in a naked embrace.
There are two brilliantly silly sequences, both of which will be nothing without their respective, equally silly, music. One sees the relationship in full swing, a certain flirtatious playfulness around the dinner table; another is a kind of ‘dating scene’, where Martnez quite literally stands out, in the middle of a stage covered in bottles of water. All guns blazing, she performs the highest kicks, the best stag leaps and shows off her arms bodybuilder-style, but expressions on her face imply she was wearing a mask: a rather good interpretation of the desire to show one’s best qualities at the beginning of a relationship.
Although a little too long – mostly down to solos which were seemingly unrelated to the narrative – the piece conveyed the development of a relationship admirably, and reminded us that if only all relationships could end, not messily, but with all the grace of Noone and Martnez, then there would no longer be such a thing as an ugly break up.