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Union Dance in Sensing Change

Posted on October 14, 2005

Union Dance appeared at the Linbury Theatre on October 14 for one performance only as part of Black History Month. The house was full of enthusiastic young people, and there was an air of anticipation as disco music played over the loudspeakers. Consisting of seven dancers, and directed by Corrine Bougaard, Union Dance aims to “…shift perspectives by exploring and expressing an identity that reflects the growing cultural fusion of contemporary society”.

This desire to create a contemporary cultural fusion in dance must surely have prompted the company to commission two works by the newly fashionable British-based choreographers Mavin Khoo and Rafael Bonachela for their programme Sensing Change. According to the programme note Sensing Change “…investigates our rapidly changing ideals through dance, music, video and eye-catching design”. Mavin Khoo’s Pure C has the look and sound of a nightclub about it, with back projections, dancers performing on podiums, and unusual costumes with “internal” lights and hair fringes along the back and legs. Oddly, its “look” reminded me of the costumes Body Map created for Michael Clark 20 years ago, and of my own long gone “clubbing days” at The Fridge – hardly contemporary! Khoo’s choreography, however, plays against this retro atmosphere by consisting of mainly slow controlled movements, including leg extensions, and exotic, South East Asian style hand and head movements. Much of the movement is beautiful in its own right, but it does not build up to a sustained sequence of interesting choreography. The dancers are good, but often seemed cautious and lacking in spontaneity, which, to be fair, might have been the result of trying to negotiate their movements around the relatively small space of the Linbury stage.

Rafael Bonachela’s Silence Disrupted exploits a much freer use of body movement and dance vocabulary, and has a stronger sense of drive, but for much of its duration was too similar in feel to the previous work, resulting in a sense of déjà vu. Both works have a cold and impersonal style that too often made the dancers look anonymous and dour, which ultimately became disengaging and unsatisfying for the spectator. If only Sensing Change had just half of the enthusiasm and energy of its young audience, it would have been a much more memorable evening.

Jonathan Gray is editor of Dancing Times. He studied at The Royal Ballet School, Leicester Polytechnic, and Wimbledon School of Art where he graduated with a BA Hons in Theatre Design. For 16 years he was a member of the curatorial department of the Theatre Museum, London, assisting on a number of dance-related exhibitions, and helping with the recreation of original designs for a number of The Royal Ballet’s productions including Danses concertantes, Daphnis and Chloë, and The Sleeping Beauty. He has also contributed to the Financial Times, written programme articles for The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet, and is co-author of the book Unleashing Britain: Theatre gets real 1955-64, published in 2005.

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