The Times

Henri Oguike Dance Company
Donald Hutera

Wyvern Theatre, Swindon

January 28, 2005

HATS off to Henri Oguike. The young British choreographer maintains a popular touch without lowering his artistic standards. This week his eager company, now in its sixth year, premiered a terrifically well-balanced programme of dances shot through with kinetic intelligence, theatrical imagination and gutsy musicality. Oguike grabs attention from the start. The new Second Signal is an outgrowth of Signal, his 2004 commission from Phoenix Dance Theatre. Set to live music by the percussive trio Taiko Meantime, this work for eight dancers is a cross between a martial-arts ceremony and a rigorous training regime.

The movement is fast, vigorous and cleanly combative. In a signature gesture dancers lean sideways, one arm raised victoriously and the other hand touching the floor. Leaps fall on to the stage like rain as drumming thunders into our chests.

The musicians are given time on their own. Fascinating to watch their strict, stick-wielding brand of choreography. Last year's White Space, set to extracts from Scarlatti's spidery harpsichord music, is in great shape. The dancing in this scampering, satirical septet is both courtly and bitchy. At the centre is a witty duet that melds salsa-like earthiness with baroque gestural filigree. A film backdrop of Mondrian-style graphics underlines the piece's immense attraction.

Shot Flow, made in 2001, is an intriguing experiment between Oguike, a long, cool drink of a dancer, and the excellent lighting designer Guy Hoare. Charlotte Eatock, one of Oguike's neatest and most versatile dancers, joins him in a series of suggestive seductions marked by a velvety tension. Pedro Carneiro's spare marimba score punctuates their sexy, cinematic shadow play.

Seen of Angels is Oguike's rousing, new full-company finale. Cued to excerpts from Handel's Messiah, it began with enough wriggling affectations and knowing looks to make me wonder if the characters sketched for the Scarlatti had accidentally strayed in here. Gradually the piece found its feet, building on the back of the music into a physical statement of spiritual succour.

Oguike's writing retains an innate clarity even when he sends the cast into twisting configurations. Their dancing possesses both feeling and flair. I could have watched the revolving rise and fall of a female quartet for ever, and then Oguike expanded this joyous pattern on to all 12 dancers. The man has a true gift.



- Donald Hutera January 2005

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