To the Ones I Love, Barbican

A couple of weeks ago, I went with a couple of friends to see the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s Nearly Ninety. None of us enjoyed it: not so much because it was an emotionless experience, but also because the dancers were so sloppy. There was no confidence in their footwork, which made the whole experience feel more like an amateur group than one founded by one of America’s foremost choreographers.

It was so bad that, for the first time in years, we left the show at the interval. I had gone to try and expand the range of shows I go to, and open my mind to more dance. As a first experience of modern dance, it was a supremely unhelpful one. 

So it was with some trepidation that I returned to the Barbican last night for another dance work, this time by Belgian Thierry Smits’ company, Compagnie Thor. 

Thankfully, I was rewarded with an hour of exquisitely performed dance that showed me what the medium can be capable of. 

Nine dancers and a series of bench-like blocks populate a sparse white stage, which in turn takes on new hues as the lighting moves through the colour spectrum. There is no story at work, only the expression of emotion through movement. 

The audio accompaniment varies between a haunting soundscape and a selection of short pieces by J. S. Bach. As one might expect, the Bach pieces provoke sequences that are closer to ‘traditional’ ballet, but throughout the choreography draws on multiple dance disciplines, with many Capoiera-inspired moves that would not look out of place in a B-Boy street dance. 

The dancers change T shirts as the show progresses in synchronisation with the changing lighting, almost fetishising the act of dressing and undressing. It helps to add to the intensity of sensuality on display. 

As you can probably tell, my vocabulary for modern dance is somewhat limited. All I can say I that I enjoyed it immensely, and helped me believe that Nearly Ninety was a sad aberration when it comes to quality dance. 

Author: Scott Matthewman

Formerly Online Editor and Digital Project Manager for The Stage, creator of the award-winning The Gay Vote politics blog, now a full-time software developer specialising in Ruby, Objective-C and Swift, as well as a part-time critic for Musical Theatre Review, The Reviews Hub and others.