Company Chordelia arrived for their third visit to Oxford’s North Wall with their latest production The Chosen garlanded with four and five star credits following a successful opening at this year’s Edinburgh Festival. While touring extensively north of the border this Scotland based company does very few performances in the south, so Oxford audiences are lucky to see it, and to have been able to trace the development of the company’s distinctive style through earlier works about legendary dancer Nijinsky, and Lady Macbeth. Director Kally Lloyd-Jones’ latest piece is a moving meditation on life and death, an intense hour which nevertheless reaches out directly to engage emotionally with its audience; a company of fine dancers come across as believable individuals whose moods and travails we can all identify with.

Six dancers in everyday clothes in shades of greys and pastels are first seen sitting waiting at the back of the stage, silhouetted against a luminous cyclorama. To a heartbeat followed by the sound of waves they advance and retreat in a softly relentless canon of flowing dance phrases that shift and evolve. The wave motif, with one dancer always seemingly left behind in solitary contemplation or slowly progressing, brings a sense of poignant inevitability; setting up a series of scenes which encapsulate relatable situations of coping with the end of life. Light happy jogging in a companionable group continues unaware alongside solitary pain and fragility, effortful struggles of teetering on the edge of losing balance. Mirrored cubes are manipulated by the cast to transform the space; framing a waiting room in which the anxious twitch and fidget against the surging emotion of Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs. The cubes become literal burdens to be shouldered or pushed in Sisyphean labour across the stage; their gleaming sides throw delicate reflections of light on to the cyclorama. Deftly rearranged they suggest changing exterior or interior landscapes in which the dancers pose in affectionate friendly groups, passing in the street, relaxing on the sofa or picnicking, captured in snapshot glimpses of recognisable everyday life. Stacked up some cubes form the base for a remarkable duet of improbable upside down poses, precarious balance and tilts, two dancers gravely supporting each other. This least realistically gestural dance seemed supremely to demonstrate dance’s unique capacity to express the profound. Dancers fell repeatedly and supported each other desperately; particularly touching was a sequence when one dancer moved invisibly among the group calming each character’s shaking spasms of misery with a soothing touch, bringing peace and acceptance before all returned to the gently pulsing waves.

Our programme was a brief A4 sheet; I would have greatly appreciated more information about the splendid cast. The carefully chosen sound score and musical content should also be fully credited, including as it did pieces with strong associations with death such as the Richard Strauss songs and the Mozart Requiem, which powerfully coloured perception of the dancing and acting. If it is not possible to have a fuller programme perhaps more information could be posted on the company’s website.

Susie Crow

19th September 2019