In the intimate setting of The North Wall Arts Centre (Oxford), choreographer Ben Wright’s bgroup, in collaboration with the independent theatre studio China Plate, presented a new piece of dance theatre “Point of Echoes”, commissioned by the Rural Touring Dance Initiative (a newly funded initiative aiming to bring contemporary dance to rural areas).

The performance space is a circular and waist-high wooden platform with two slowly slopping access ramps on its outside; it is surrounded at the north and south ends by 4 rows of seats and to the east and west by seat-free galleries. Immediately upon entering, we are intrigued. When the lights dim and a first performer appears we are introduced to a long and lithe character named Eric Norman Valentine (Thomas Heyes); a female voice-off, his mother, reads a letter entrusting Eric into the care of the team he is joining at Echo Point lighthouse for a work placement: his demeanour is idiosyncratic but he is a good conscientious worker. Welcoming him to the lighthouse, is our second main character, Bernard Humphries (Dom Czapski) the lighthouse keeper. A third character soon appears (Marta Masiero), which we understand to be the spirit of Bernard’s wife, accompanying him and distracting him.

The evening came in 2 parts; the first half established the characters and set the scene for the uncanny to occur in the second half. Thomas Heyes, with his Lancashire accent and supple movements developed his interesting character very well; through his clear diction as well as the looseness of his dancing, we understand that he is literal, likes lists, and struggles to relate to other people’s emotions. Dom Czapski, as the man in charge, carries the load of his wife’s memory – quite literally in some instances, and having been given a less idiosyncratic character, seemed to struggle making us relate to him. Marta Masiero, given the otherworldly nature of the character(s) she was portraying, delivered a convincing wordless performance, particularly in the second half, where her jagged movements alternated with smoothness, evoking the uncanny without ever really tapping into the ethereal.

The cleverness of the staging, with all the trap doors in the stage area, as well as the choice of Marta Masiero’s costume – all by Will Holt, supported by the soundtrack by Alan Stone and music by Stuart Warwick (who wrote the story) contributed brilliantly to conveying the ambiguities inherent to the narrative.

More theatre than dance, this was a piece well delivered by the dancers/actors and served well by music, soundtrack, costumes, and set.

Overall, this was an entertaining evening, being told a story – and who doesn’t like being told a story?

Ségolène Tarte

22nd March 2018