Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Army of Me & The House Opposite

Joanna Young , Riverfront Theatre Newport , November-12-13
Army of Me & The House Opposite by Joanna Young Joanna Young is a choreographer who is building a reputation for detailed and sensitive work with strong visual art sensibilities and feeling for contrasting textures in the tiniest fragments of material. This double bill offers a contrasting programme of work by four women dancers in the sparest of settings that gives the audience access to the inner workings of dance itself.

In the small, intimate performance space in Newport’s warm and welcoming Riverfront Theatre, the audience sits close to the stage and watches a lone dancer gently swaying in an isolated spotlight. With striking red hair and wearing a simple but beautifully fitted dress, dancer Kirsty Arnold holds the space effortlessly and commands attention. She begins to move softly and seems absorbed in her thoughts as she listens to the footsteps in the subdued sound score from Filipe Sousa that creates the impression of an inner dialogue with the ‘army’ of herself. As she moves into the stage space, intermittent bursts of flickering movement flash through her arms and torso, carving through the space and forcing the viewer to stay sharply focused. With a boneless technique, Arnold makes the simplest movement create entrancing narratives in her body and her securely grounded body and weight allow her to inhabit the choreography as if her life depended on it. Army of Me is a fine, restrained piece of work from choreographer Joanna Young and Arnold is a dancer to look out for in the future. Beat a path to her performances.

By contrast, The House Opposite is danced by three women dancers, Deborah Light, Mara Vivas and Hannah Wintie. Based on the 1945 painting by Mexican-based artist, Young takes inspiration from the characters in the painting and has created a dance that interacts in a series of simple tableaux formed from trios, duets and solos.

The dancers move effectively and cleanly across the stage with a mysterious air of shared community, sometimes in pure unison and sometimes at odds with each other. There is much choreographic detail worked into the piece which is performed with commitment and integrity by the three dancers. Dancer Hannah Wintie in particular has a look in her eye that is charismatic and pulls focus to herself with great ease.

Near the end of the work, we see a simple image of one dancer totally relaxed and hanging in the air on the feet of another of the dancers. With a gentle backlight to illuminate them, they play with each other’s hair and create an image of outstanding beauty and poise. Shortly after, the dance ends with an ambiguous and uncertain conclusion. Perhaps Young wants to leave things ‘hanging in the air’?

In this enticing double bill of dance, Young shapes her material into effective and poetic dance, showing a rhythmic richness to vocabulary and giving her dancers solid and strong challenges to their art. The work she creates is restrained and pure, making her a strong presence in the independent dance scene in Wales which Riverfront’s Director, Nic Young is doing much to sponsor and support.

Reviewed by: Roy Campbell-Moore

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