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Bare Bones

By Donald Hutera

The Times, 12 February 2009

There are no bad sightlines at a performance by Bare Bones, a touring company produced and managed by the Birmingham-based national dance agency DanceXchange. At the majority of venues, or wherever possible, the audience sits on all four sides of the performance space. Such proximity can make for an unusually up close and intimate experience.

Now in its sixth edition, Bare Bones specialises in mixed bills. Normally there are six dancers, but injury had put one temporarily out of commission at the performance I saw. Tricky, that, especially if your dance has only three people in it. Such was the case in Garry Stewart’s Magnification, here reduced to a visceral duet for the sturdy Robert Bell and the small, dark and intense Céline Alwyn. In stained, motheaten thermals they jerked and battered against each other like mechanical yet amorous dolls. Stewart’s intention was to expose the body’s inner workings, hence the soundtrack (by Luke Smiles) of exaggerated crunches, cracks, sloshes and accelerating heart beats.

Even in a truncated state the painful ecstasy of Stewart’s dance hit a nerve. So did Robert Clark in Straight Talking, a solo devised with the director-choreographer Charlotte Vincent. In his knickers and nervously clutching a boombox, Clark informed us that he was about to flout conventional dance virtuosity or beauty. What ensued was a bout of chest-beating, after which Clark departed. But the discomfiting air of his actions lingered.

Other fare, although cleverly or competently crafted, was less challenging or only fitfully engaging. In Rui Horta’s Container, a kinetic essay about the crowded, high-pressure intimacy of modern life, the cast held their breath. In David Massingham’s Hinterland they wheeled through frustratingly amorphous explosions of motion.