Demers (long-haired and of voluptuous physique) and Diallo (close-cropped and of more wiry musculature) are old friends from their native Canada and have devised Sense of Self over a two-year period. Arriving in Leeds to a packed and appreciative audience at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance’s Riley Theatre (Diallo is to choreograph for the school’s graduate dance company, Verve, next year), it had the sheen of a work meticulously crafted, whose every incident had been considered in detail. The stage appears as a wasteland, the boxes – containing black balloons – are variously strewn; the lighting, by David Perreault Ninacs, shifts around, glimmering and casting long shadows that dissolve into the air.
An opening duet for Demers and Diallo, an undulation of limbs entwined upon the floor, appears as if it could be foreplay, or the birth pangs of a mother’s body. One performer lies, seemingly dead, upon the floor, onto whom is taped a human silhouette, which writhes in lissom tics of movement. A further duet, faster and more intricate, sets the dancers back and forth along the diagonal in a game of tag, which unfolds as a fugue. A dancer hides beneath a rug and transforms herself into a comic grizzly bear, to the sounds of the wind and of aeroplanes. Chopin piano music briefly drifts in (one of the Nocturnes, I would venture) before dissipating into a crescendo of French and English voices. Another duet seems to consider the manipulation of movement (from where does it emanate, from whence is its impulse?) in phrases of rhythmic pushing and tugging. The music stops. Demers stands upon a red square pulling faces at the audience that are comic and grotesque. She draws out a note pad, upon each page is written an obiter dictum: “in disgust”, “in despair”, “in disarray”, “in decay”, “in dust”…and so it proceeds. The balloons are released.
These tableaux charm in their quirky way, each delightfully crafted and beautifully performed; yet of their meaning and of the nature of “identity” I gathered little sense. The work, though imaginative and inventive, felt too piecemeal, too lacking in coherence and seemed rather like over-hearing two university professors discussing the finer points of atomic theory. Diallo and Demers have created a piece of undoubted worth, whose images haunt the mind, but Sense of Self seemed too much of an intellectual exertion for it truly to engage.