I arrived late to find myself in the middle of Selfies x4 by Marina Collard Company. On stage were 4 young female dancers Lorea Burge, Alice Labant, Mathilde Lepage Bagatta and Carolina Ravaioli – dressed in jeans and a pairing of blues and reddish tops. Sometimes they stood and gazed vacantly, other times they preened, sat, walked, jumped or danced; some lovely consecutive moves, responses, stopping and starting between the pairs. Behind them, ‘selfie shots’ – pictures of faces – built up in a mosaic of squares over the back screen and disappeared again to reappear in another configuration. The soundtrack a hubbub of background noise: talking, sometimes in English, sometimes in a foreign language, a lot of giggling and awkward noises, the clattering, clanking sounds of a canteen. The whole aptly expressing the isolating (alienating?) contentment and self absorption of selfie culture.  At the end we were treated to the two pairs becoming a four and posing for each other and us; a connection warmly appreciated by the audience. This work was a collaboration between Marina, Paul Whitty (sound/music) and Vicki Rucinska ( film/projection).

Justice in Motion’s ‘Mark of Cain’ directed by Anja Meinhardt began with a man cowering for shelter, in the darkness around him swirling clouds of smoke. Between the bursts of gunfire we were treated to his fantasy world where a shirt became his partner and companion and he dreamed of his childhood sweetheart. High in a white cocoon the subject/object of his desire swung gently, her image echoed in an infinity of memory reverberations projected onto the back curtain.

We heard the fantasy and longings of the war torn man, we heard the the girl’s recollection of him when she knew him before. We experienced the discomfort and horror of an incident through sound and the wranglings of two figures hidden in the sheath of material. We heard her anger and hurt and disgust. Her body expressively and dynamically physicalising the trauma, frustration, hope and despair.

We saw a pair, male and female. Living the normal life. Ordinary things, ordinary movements in unison framing and containing the bursts of her anguish. Reliving and readjusting to the reality of experience. Trying to find a way forward, hanging onto hope.  Storytelling, intense physicality and embodied emotion were crafted well with the technical aspects of projection, lighting and aerial work to make a powerful, moving and provocative piece which refused a simple black and white view.  The performers were Anja Meinhardt and Tanner Efinger.

After the interval was woman once dead crawl back performed by Cecilia Macfarlane, Hilary Kneale and Melissa Holding. The lights rose quietly.  In the space were gradually revealed a figure on her back (Cecilia), head towards audience with limbs, fingers and toes frozen and crooked in the air like a dead spider or creature.  Motionless.  As were the pair of white figures like mummies laid out straight on their backs on the diagonal. One bearing the serene face of Melissa. To their left an empty neck rest.  And further over, nearer the front of the stage an empty low stool.  Along the back, a corridor of light occupied to one side by two big oval shaped tin buckets. Diagonally opposite near the front of the stage a pile of oranges in a basket and a copper pot.  Lit.  The sound of a cave dripping water. All this in stillness, allowing time to absorb the beautiful (Japanese influenced) aesthetics of material, light, colour and texture laid out before us.

Then another sound appeared and made its way from the back of the auditorium down the stairs beside the audience. A sound and a smell. It was Hilary briskly wafting with quick movements of her wrist, feather in hand, the smoke of incense. Like a mischevious shamen sporting feathers and strings of things around her waist and clad in toed black rubber boots she made her way impishly across the stage to occupy the empty stool. Holding the burning incense in her cupped hand and continuing her work.

Gradually the still figures began to move and we were treated to gentle, subtle and humorous re-orderings of the space and the objects and figures in them including the movement and sounds of Melissa’s koto. There was a serenity, playfulness and beauty throughout the whole that was quite absorbing.

In a final tableau the three gathered around the oranges.   As they ate and looked out at us I was filled with a deep joy at the beauty, assurance and humour of these three unique women tasting and sharing with us the fruits of life.

In contrast, the final piece featured a single male dancer (Allan Hutson) from Unlock the Chains Collective. At times accompanied by a projection of the dancer and his female partner, at others by the dancer’s own double shadow (and annoyingly one of the audience members’ boot waving and jigging– it is amazing how unaware some people can be of their impact on a live performance!) The piece LIfe was considering what happens when love breaks down and the impact on someone whose whole journey of self identity has been towards the ideal of a happy marriage. What happens when that’s gone. The work was accompanied by at least three songs/recorded tracks whose lyrics along with the dance and theatre of Alan contributed to the storytelling. This last piece had originally been envisaged as a duet but was being performed as a work in progress solo. Dancin’ Oxford offered a chance to see more of Unlock the Chains Collective’s fuller work at OFS on 7th March.

As ever, Moving with the Times was a varied performance platform offering a glimpse of the rich range of work being made in Oxford.

Ana Barbour

7th March 2015