Henri Oguike Dance Company on tour
Combustible, comforting fragments
Ismene Brown reviews the Henri Oguike Dance Company on tour
The Wyvern Theatre, Swindon, is a cold, tatty, black bunker stuck over the town's bus and railway stations, and far from an incentive to anyone seeking either entertainment or soul food. Swindonians deserve better, so it is natural justice that they experienced the first burst into light of the amazing Henri Oguike's latest creations.
Young Oguike is setting a blistering pace - two new pieces a year, and maintaining a rotating repertory on multiple bills. This new programme is a corker. To last year's superbly mocking Scarlatti dance, White Space, and his contemplative 2001 duet with light and marimba, Shot Flow, he weds two new works using live Japanese taiko drums and Handel's Messiah.
That rather unbelievable contrast is Oguike all over. No other choreographer working in Britain today can provide an evening of such fertile musical and visual variety - each creation has its own colour, pace and distinctive mode of movement, though all share an exultant physical vigorousness and the visionary lighting of Guy Hoare.
The playful new opener, Second Signal, features three taiko drummers, the battering of their instruments given a spectacular showcase in the middle movement when the dancers leave them alone to allow us to appreciate their physical movement - oddly like tennis, with pulverising forehand and backhand strokes. Oguike picks up their punchy style in the springy dances he gives his troupe fore and aft, but he's confidently offering the musicians as the stars.
It's also a confident, even foolhardy man who choreographs Handel's Messiah. But Oguike has made a deep-thinking 35-minute selection of music that ignores the blockbuster numbers and fastens primarily on the dramatic signposts of the recitatives, in which the passions and metaphors of the story are delivered at their most concise and most loaded.
From these combustible fragments of text and music, he maps a gossamer-light narrative of human feeling for his 12 silvery dancers that wends movingly around the religious source.
In "For behold, a virgin shall conceive", a woman sways ecstatically away from her lover, leaving him in shadow. Whereupon in "For behold, darkness shall cover the earth", he and two other men link in dark, troubled chains of dance that search the ground for light. Whether taken for representation or metaphor, it was touching. The word "comfort" recurs frequently, and his dancers embrace, heartstoppingly, whenever it comes.
This tender consciousness of humanity's isolation and need for consolation emerges lucidly in his choreography, which is planted on tough legs and forcefully swinging arms but detailed with those eloquent hand messages and eye contacts that make Oguike's dancers such direct communicators.
They end not with "Hallelujah" but with the choral assertion that "His yoke is easy", in which the dancers sprinkle doubtful glances and make a final run to each other's arms. An easy yoke is, after all, an oxymoron.
Seen of Angels steps bravely into unfashionable territory, but it is the aesthetic vitality and urgent emotional truth of his expression that make Oguike such an extraordinary force.
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