Choreographer Ieva Kuniskis’ work is exciting, moving and entertaining. First up last night, Encore was the debut performance by the Remarkable Dance Company. The dance opened with the entire cast in a closely gathered group, right arms raised, before they collectively followed a sequence of gestural movements. To music ranging from Eric Satie’s Je te veux and Csokolom’s Lulu Valse to Lou Reed’s Goodnight Ladies, they took us through a series of scenes that affirmed the dancers’ wit, experience and individuality. This was an outstandingly successful engagement between a choreographer and a group of older dancers, who are for the most part without vocational training. Some barefoot, others in shoes, they clearly wore what felt right (and what they could see in; at least two wore their spectacles).   The cast set the slightly subversive tone early on, when they momentarily became the spectators looking out at us in the auditorium, neatly turning the tables on the audience. A few props and some waltz steps evoked a summer picnic; song and spoken word added narrative, humour and emotion. At the end the entire cast crossed the stage in line and side-by-side, all repeating the same phrase of movement before they crossed back one-by-one, each acknowledging the audience in his or her own way. This was a finished work of genuine artistic merit.

The auditorium was cleared to set the stage for the second work, They Live Next Door performed to a score by Dougie Evans. We returned to find Nicholas Minns sitting alone on a chair, carefully working on a piece of embroidery, in a space surrounded by a fragile framework of dozens of half empty glasses of water. Minns’ charismatic stage presence compels attention drawing the audience in, making the smallest details interesting. Then Mark Boldin enters, and is about to speak when Minns prevents him, clapping his hand over Boldin’s mouth. What follows is an exploration in dance of masculinity, as Minns and Boldin embody, through movement, the painful tensions and contradictory desires that are woven through domestic relationships. Boldin’s powerful theatricality competes with Minns’ fierce authority on stage as they work through scenes of overt and covert conflict. Even the manner in which Minns takes Boldin’s coat from him at the start conveys complexity. Kuniskis uses, and keeps returning to, the formality of ballroom dance to contain her characters’ emotion in a way that draws out tenderness, eroticism, anger and desperate misery. At times, Minns stands in perfect turnout, hand on supporting hip, leg held in dégagé en arrière, his arm extended à la seconde, palm turned up in an invitation to Boldin that is also a demand. This is not a ballet, but only a ballet dancer could move like that. Sometimes they dance together as a couple, at others, side by side, and at one point Minns attempts to dance alone, and ends by shouting that he can’t do it all by himself. We see the tiny cruelties and games that people play: offering and rejecting biscuits; the winner laughing at the one who loses the arm-wrestling, one or the other granting or withholding affection. Their ordinary shoes and conventional clothing (they even wear ties) emphasises the mundane nature of their squabbles: although this is a work about male relationships, Kuniskis has created a piece with universal relevance. Both dancers gave extraordinarily intense and convincing performances: after the show was over, it was quite a relief to see Minns and Boldin give each other a big hug on stage.

I hope that They Live Next Door will tour: it deserves to be seen by a wider audience.

Maggie Watson

30th July 2017