To say that the 'First Class Air Male' programme at The Place was a disappointment would be both an understatement and an inaccuracy since - like that famous Curate's egg - it was good in parts. Unfortunately, only one quarter of this particular egg was good and since that part came right at the end of the mixed bill , it was necessary to sit through the..um..less good bits to get to it.
The programme opened with 'The Haman/Navas Project (excerpt 2001)' which was choroegraphed by Jose Navas, who also danced in the piece accompanied on stage by the cellist Walter Haman playing extracts from Allan Hovaness' 'Yakamochi' (so said the programme, but the piece was completely unknown to me) and Britten's 'Suite 1 for Cello'. Both dancer and cellist were confident and competent, but the piece seemed to me to be desperately pretentious. Navas dances with grace and control, but there was no excuse for the limited, repetitive seqences of movement he indulged - spin, wave arms gracefully about, spin again - nor the inexplicable way he involved the cellist by standing motionless behind his chair as he played, covering the musicians eyes with a hand and slowly pulling invisible 'threads' from his head.
After the interval came the slightly better 'fps (frames per second)' choreographed and danced by Henri Oguike to the recorded sounds of Schubert's 'String Quartet No. 13 in A Minor' played by the Alban Berg trio. Oguike has a few things going for him apart from his dancing and choreography - he is tall, muscular and handsome - but ultimately this piece too failed in a welter of messy lighting and indulgent choreography - more twirling on the spot and arm-waving As the woman sitting next to me said 'if you're a solo performer, you have put as much into it as if you were ten people if you want to keep the audience interested'. Quite. It was my first viewing of Oguike and I am interested enough to go and see him again, but not as a soloist.
Next came Ben Wright's '1' choreographed and danced by himself to music by Alan Stones, and again, one's spirits sank. A single, naked light-bulb (with some assistance from on overhead spot) illuminated his rollings and posings which passed for dancing, and whereas I could at least make some sort of judgement about the dance qualities of the previous two performers, I had no idea of what to make of Wright at the end of his piece other than his obvious control and confidence. He must have had a lot of friends in - there was much undeserved hollering and whooping as the lights went down on '1'. Again, I think it would be worth seeing him in a group piece choreographed by someone other than himself.
Finally, the good - the excellent, the superlative - part of the Curate's egg, Russell Maliphant's mysteriously titled 'One Part II' (he obviously shares a MeaninglessTitle Consultant with William Forsythe), choreographed and danced by himself to JS Bach music. Again Michael Hulls' subtle lighting added to the success of this lusciously satisfying piece, which came like a main course of velvety Boeuf en Daube after previous three courses of uni-flavoured pot noodles. Maliphant is the strangest, most brilliant dancer currently performing in the UK. He walks his own walk, and when he goes there will simply be nobody to replace him. It is hard to describe his dancing in 'One Part II' - he moved with extraordinary grace and power across the stage, always taking his time about it, though sometimes a movement like a cartwheel seemingly executed in slow motion appeared simultaneously blurred with speed. He controls his movement by subtle shifts of weight, and his weight and strength come from the lower half of his body, as if he is rooted in the floor and growing from it. He isn't above 'party tricks' from time to time - he has a slow, deep backbend which he likes to show off at intervals where he seems to tip backwards so far and to hover in that impossible position until you worry that he might fall over but then he turns a foot inwards, leans on it and brings his body easily upright again. A miracle.
This programme is touring until Saturday to Bury St. Edmunds (Theatre Royal), Cambridge (The Junction) Eastliegh (The Point) and Nottingham (Lakeside Pavilion). I would say it is well worth seeing just to catch Russell Maliphant.