Lewys Holt is billed as an “interdisciplinary dance artist”.  His double bill of two extended performance pieces cannot really be described as primarily dance solos – involving, as they do, not only Holt’s particular movement, collapsing and reconstituting itself in wayward unexpected ways, but also articulate verbal narrative and interjections of projected images, sound and music.  A studio setting provides a small performing space demarcated by a black curtain with simple white chair and table; but shifting camera work allow viewers to glimpse behind and around it the clutter of a working space and its prosaic furnishings, with radiators, coarse chipboard, and miscellaneous equipment pushed aside – in contrast to the unrealistic abstracted framing of theatre’s conventional black box.  A masked collaborative technical team visible filming from different angles or following Holt within the performing space are occasionally drawn into his rambling monologue to answer questions and offer comments or suggestions.  

In Phrases blurred layers of imagery combine, and apparently shambolic spontaneity gradually emerges as knowing artifice, within an episodic structure taking the action in fresh directions.  It begins with the barefoot Holt in T shirt and cropped trousers sketching a passage of internalised improvisatory dance, gradually expanding into breathy vocalisation before embarking on a shaggy dog story about going to the doctor, and obsessively carrying an offhand cliché of nutritional advice to its logical and ridiculous conclusions.  Holt types instructions into his laptop – a picture postcard view of a seaside town appears on a projector screen, his desktop menu, PowerPoint slides, later a photo of apples, as he talks and moves.  He leaves the space to his recorded voice, captured in a one sided phone conversation requesting removal of a mysterious moving object, an everyday tone belying the description of an increasingly surreal and jarring entity; he gingerly crawls sideways and begins the conversation again.  A scratchy guitar track, synthesised sound and urgent abandoned dance eventually drowns out Holt’s voice.  Sitting on a white chair he continues his previous story shouting over an excerpt of Bach’s B Minor Mass; a prolonged silence beginning with effortful rolling on the floor overlaid by a PowerPoint of anxious asides builds to a crescendo of synthesized sound and evolving repetitive action.   The piece ends with a melancholic sequence of seaside views with resonant place names as Holt dances to a simple electric piano riff; ending slumped against a radiator, coming back down from his weird journey as the titles roll.

I found Footnotes more openly comedic in its skewering of academic pretension.  Holt as trendy lecturer in jeans, polo neck sweater and corduroy jacket formally welcomes the viewer to “this presentation of my research”, shuffling his papers.  Seated in the centre of attention he turns to an amplified mike on a stand to declaim footnotes to his text, of initial banality but increasing absurdity.  No sentence is complete without an anarchic or gestural interruption or surreal digression, so that any thread to the portentous jargon of his text is lost, despite Holt’s forever pulling himself back to the conventional lecture with its formal presentational devices. Listeners are invited to accompany Holt in an exercise in relaxation; slumped in his chair we hear Holt’s recorded voice recounting to a female interlocutor a dream-like story of an abandoned baby.  A grandiose animated description of an epic battle resolves in the banality of an illustrative graph about washing up.  Further confessional conversation about the baby is accompanied by a dance of meandering and staggering; Holt removes his clothes then puts them back on again, losing his cool in a final confusion of anecdote, frustrated gesture and shouting, before collapsing over his chair; his final hesitant thanks voiced with his head on the floor.

I viewed the programme as part of what might be described as a streaming “tour”, online showings of filmed content to paying audiences at different venues on different days.  Uncompromisingly unspectacular and often bathetic, these works are complex in their use of different media and modes of expression, skilfully woven together to blur the boundaries of the real and the surreal.  Reflecting the limitations imposed under lockdown and the necessity for socially distanced home viewing, dance appears here artificially framed through media, yet eschewing theatrical concealment, and potentially open to casual interaction. Holt’s work raises questions as to a new place for dance in performance, and our experience of it; upending established presentational conventions to make us wonder whether we will ever watch in the same way again.

Susie Crow

9th May 2021