The first part of the show could easily be called Another Look at Geometry (in a good way). Think sublime and effortlessly straight lines, compass-drawn angles, movements painted with perfectly equal brushstrokes – much like the floor, reminiscent of the sharpness of a Bridget Riley or a Gerhard Richter. This is dance that beats precision itself, and marvellously executed.
As part of the Institut Français FranceDance UK festival, Thomas Lebrun choreographs a piece revolving around the notion of memory. Memory, that is, in the broadest possible sense: the memories of Lebrun’s own journey as a choreographer, with some of his most faithful dancers; the muscular memory of the dancers as they perform the same routine over and over again (we shall come back to this); the memory of the audience as they reflect on their own recollection process.
Circularity, recursiveness, and iteration are all integral parts of the way we experience, memorise, and recollect things. The piece made me think of Wordsworth’s concept of feelings and emotions: we experience them on the spot, but it’s only when we go back to them and recollect them in tranquillity that the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” can take place, with the ensuing production of poetry. So in general, going back to things seems, pretty important, creatively speaking.
Another Look at Memory by Thomas Lebrun – Photo © Frédéric Iovino
Repetition is also crucial in the music score, composed by Philip Glass. More than once it reminded me of his mesmeric opera Satyagraha (ENO, 2018), but it has to be said that his style is pretty unmistakeable. Proceeding with a spiral movement, starting from a basic sequence and adding more and more layers to it, his choral music is just mesmerising. In Another Look at Memory, as well as the music, what is also captivating is the dancers’ technical perfection. On the notes of Glass’s trance-inducing music, the performance goes almost entirely hand in hand with its score, mapping out with exact, clockwork precision what’s going on in the music. In this sense, the piece has a very ballet-like quality.
The mirroring between music and movement is made all the more superb by the technical quality of the dancers. Living up to the programme, which hails “a dance of rare precision”, the show is consistently performed with solid, controlled, spotless movements. The whole thing is just impressively neat. If David from Bake Off was a piece of dance, I would argue it would be this one. What sometimes seems to lack (at least for someone not hugely familiar with Lebrun’s career) is a story, a sense of intention behind the ultra-clean movements. But nestled within the show are also some powerful gems, such as the beautiful sequence with three dancers placed diagonally to the audience. Their fragile, syncopated movements mimic the times when memory becomes fragmented and hazy, confused and scrappy. Mentally stimulating on so many levels, I wonder whether the show could have done with a few more of these relatable, narrative sequences, balancing out the geometrical flawlessness.
All in all, however, this is a remarkable and accomplished piece of work, where harmony, synchronicity and energy flow freely. Memory is explored from a variety of angles, and to a music that is difficult to forget.
Another Look at Memory runs at The Coronet until 26th October. For more information, please visit their website.