The intimacy of the auditorium combined with the technical range of the Old Fire Station theatre make it an excellent venue for the DEC Project. DEC’s unique combination of dance, music and real-time visual art, with significant elements of improvisation, make heavy demands on set-up and technology. In their performance at the Old Fire Station on Friday all three elements of the performance worked together from the audience perspective. The musicians, Malcolm Atkins and Bruno Guastalla, were visible but not imposing on any sight lines, the three artists, Clare Bassett, Kassandra Isaacson and Susan Moxley, were sitting centrally, visible but not within the performance area thus leaving the stage free for the two dancers, Ana Barbour and Susie Crow. Behind them the backdrop onto which the art works unfolded was square and perfectly projected. These details are all important as the DEC project depends on the audience being able to see, hear and appreciate all three elements of the performances without hindrance.

There are two unique aspects to DEC performances. Firstly, the projection behind the dancers reveals the act of drawing and painting itself. We see the brush moving and a line of colour, glistening wet, emerge across the screen, a moving dance of shape and colour. Secondly three artists, two dancers and two musicians all have, within each artistic practice, contrasting styles and approaches. Coming from a long involvement with Butoh, Ana Barbour has the ability to use gesture and stillness, the slightest movement of hand or eye can carry immense weight. This gives her dance an almost infinite palate of expression. Susie Crow, on the other hand, coming from a classical dance background uses her whole body to define and transfer action into intention from within a more restricted set of more formal movements. But they are movements we can all relate to easily. From behind a double keyboard with digital loops Malcolm Atkins creates a restless urgent music, often dense and multilayered while Bruno Guastalla, particularly on cello has a refined, clean and emotionally charged approach to melody. The differences between the three artists is harder to define in a few words but ranges from Kassandra Isaacson’s use of a single thick curving line, lifted and contorted on screen to Susie Moxley’s sharp dancing pen scratches magically defining moving figures and Clare Bassett’s bold, colour-heavy brush strokes that build into whole landscapes before ones eyes.

These contrasts of style were all used to great effect throughout the performance. In Cut Outs the wave-like lines from Susan Moxley reflected in Susie Crow’s movements sometimes flowing sometimes stuttering contrasted delightfully with the next piece, String, in which Ana Barbour playfully unwound a huge ball of string around the stage to the sounds of Atkins’s leaps and bounds on the keyboard. In Viola da Gamba, Guastalla’s cello improvisation, with beautiful references to Bach, led and reflected Susie Crow’s classically orientated solo. For me the high point of the evening, a deconstruction of Poussin’s Landscape with a Man Killed by a Snake involved nearly all the performers, the two dancers wove the story together without either having to compromise their own style, the music jarred and gelled by turns and Clare Bassett managed to produce a very Poussinesque landscape within the space of the whole piece. It was a most unlikely intercontextual piece that worked excellently.

There is, of course, always the danger that these contrasts of style between the performers can work against one or another such that the brightness of one can throw another into the shade. With such a panoply of talents it is inevitable that we are not all entranced by every performer. That said the DEC project manages to pull off a visual and auditory experience that has all the ingredients of a muddle and makes it into something utterly compelling. I know they have worked hard to achieve this and deserve great praise for their success.

Paul Medley

25th May 2013