May 31, 2011
Combining modern dance, live music, improvisation and animation, Points of Ellipsis was about as avant garde as Sunday evening in Oxford gets.
Pegasus Theatre, 29 May 2011
The newly redeveloped Pegasus is a joy to inhabit (though, performers: please be aware that the steeply raked seating's sightlines prevent most of the audience from seeing anything you're doing on the floor at the very front of the stage). Though the main performance space doesn't appear to have changed much, the foyer and cafe are pretty and the workshops, garden, offices and other spaces out back are light, airy and spacious, with some great sculpture (including a snaking street-front bike rack made of bike chains). The theatre's ethos of inclusion and exploration of unusual and often challenging genres seems to radiate out of it - making it the perfect home for an edgy showcase like this.
From the outset the audience was presented with the unsusual (and gestures towards very high art). The programme came with a pencil and contained some morse code; it told us we could complete a phrase by observing the dancer (Rachel Scurry, also the choreographer) and translating her movements into a message. Her movements were alternately jerky and graceful, punctuated by emphasised breaths, forming a repeated sequence. She looked a little like somebody having a very methodical seizure (though her poise, control and point-perfect execution belied this). The soundtrack was scratchy too, with fuzzy radio interference and feedback - the noise of machinery, with little human influence. The line between dance and performance art was very blurry here (and I would LOVE to know what the secret message was).
Trumpet Creepers (various graduates of London Contemporary Dance School, this time three women) improvised slickly: writhing and twitching, leaping and falling, sliding and balancing on one another, chairs and the floor. They interacted with the audience through words, twinkly expressions and laughter, resembling three frolicking pixies toying with the observers who they know have spotted them. It was hard to believe their sleek, swooping movements were entirely improvised.
Pianist/composer Tim Croston played two solo pieces: one made for his girlfriend's birthday (we were invited to work out her age from the time signature, which was far beyond me), the second a Two-part Invention, a form borrowed from the baroque where one hand repeats what the other has played in the previous bar. This was mind-bogglingly impressive technically - and the melding of baroque structure, blues chords and something a bit like Squarepusher was surprisingly listenable.
Composer/musician Ben Mowatt brought on an ensemble of musicians to play pieces of his own comprising strings, vocals, electric drums and tuned wine glasses. One piece was accompanied by animated film. These were amongst the weaker moments of the evening, as discordant vocal harmonies fell short technically, violinists scratched a little (unintentionally - there were plenty of intentional scratches too) and incredibly complex time signatures and parts ran occasionally off course. It also wasn't clear how the last piece was supposed to match up to the dancers; there were points where dancing continued and music did not. Nevertheless, it was clear that the group had set themselves an ambitious challenge with these complex pieces, and I'm sure a little more familiarity would iron out any hitches for next time.
An impressive showcase from a selection of performers aiming very, very high.