Russell Maliphant Company ‘Still Current’ review by Celina Russell – Oregonian
Russell Maliphant Company’s ‘Still Current’ is electric in Lincoln Hall show (dance review)
Russell Maliphant is back in Portland, with a program of five intricate studies in movement, light and feeling. Maliphant isn’t performing right now (he appeared in “Still Current” on tour last year but has been out on injury since November), but his work is so cohesive, so curated, styled and teased down to the tiniest detail that his presence is everywhere in the work.
Before a creaking curtain eased out of sight on the Thursday performance, White Bird founders Paul King and Walter Jaffe proclaimed Lincoln Hall their “favorite dance space.” Watching Maliphant’s company dance is like seeing in HD for the first time, and I would have preferred to see the work in a large, modern hall, where the choreography’s cinematic ticks could glow from a clarifying distance.
But as the program cycles, rapidly, through five pieces, each one more breathtaking than the last, Michael Hull’s lighting design makes it clear that there is no stage, other than the framed-out light he’s created and the movements that interact with it. Essentially dancing within a light box, (or a snowglobe, as Thomasin Gulgec does in the lovely “Afterlight (Part One),”) each performer is encased in a light that plays its own character in the piece — a three-dimensional space that stretches with feeling like a living thing.
Inside their light rooms the performers are so comfortable and introspective that watching them seems a little shameful, like spying what’s flashing on a neighbor’s living room television from the street. Most of the dancers wear socks, sweatpants and denim or jersey shirts with zippers over their hearts; their motions are fluid and thoughtful. Every step is pulled out of their bodies in a long stretch, explored at varying speeds, discarded for a moment, then pulled out again.
The four performers are utterly individual, both short and tall, classically trained and not, yet the choreographic language they share is one. Each movement is infused with a dangerous, fearful beauty that is as abstract as it is intimate, as serious and technical as it is fantastically mesmerizing.
In “Critical Mass” Gulgec and Dickson Mbi’s duet is more of a dance for one than a pairing. Worker-like in blue collared shirts and cotton pants, encased in a pearl rectangle of light accented with blue from above, the two intertwine into a single, flexible warrior, trying out poses for battle, perhaps, or just a long, energetic meditation.
In contrast, Carys Staton plays something of a group piece in the solo “Two.” Her body parts tackle different roles; the elbow, in one extended scene, is the soloist, while various other limbs become the corps de ballet. At first, she seems trapped in her small square spotlight, later, she grabs at it and manipulates its contours like plucking strings on a guitar.
As with much of Maliphant’s choreography in this show, the movements are simple and electric, moving from slow to fast motion and back again slightly ahead of your eyes’ ability to adjust, creating a windmilling effect that repeats in each dance.
If the urgency in these motions matches the persistent drum and bass, with an occasional synthesized droplet, that Maliphant’s longstanding collaborations with contemporary composers (Richard English, Andy Cowton, Armand Amar, the ambient artist Mukul) has produced, then it’s only in their contrast that I sense a greater range that isn’t so tightly stylized by Maliphant’s aesthetic.
The composition in the round that Gulgeg performs in the second act, “Afterlight (Part One),” unfolds into a larger space, from a single twirling snowflake underfoot to a Milky Way that spreads across the stage, accompanied by the cool, rambling piano keys of the minimalist composer Erik Satie. Canned though each soundtrack is, it feels organic in this piece, with few notes of the tediousness that the repetition of windmills and electric sound can draw.
But if there were rare moments that didn’t completely secure this Millennial’s attention, the stirring quality of light and movement that dominates the show more than makes up for them.
In “Still” Mbi roams through the bars of a caged room alone, searching his soul, matching poses of weight and strength with the sense that he’s thoughtfully voguing in the moonlight, guided, in the end, by a palazzo pant-clad Staton.
And in “Still Current,” Staton pairs with Marlon Dino for a post-apocalyptic surrender to emotion, intimacy and tense togetherness. The light rolls in on them like a sardine can then stretches out, a sheet of plastic wrap pulled to the point of becoming opaque.
And, as disorienting as the intermittent strobing and inherent darkness in this work might be, it’s something to relish as you walk away, still spinning in the carefully shaped lights that peek at what’s inside almost as well as they illuminate what’s out.
— Celina Russell for The Oregonian/OregonLive