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Gravity & Levity, Shift, Corn Exchange, Newbur

By Donald Hutera

The Times, 8 April 2008

Lindsey Butcher has been following a dual career path as a contemporary dancer and aerialist for nigh on 20 years. There is no room for Lycra, sequins or any of the trappings of traditional circus in her creative universe. With tongue in cheek, what she and her collaborators say they practise is the high art of aerial dance-theatre.

Butcher’s company Gravity & Levity made its official debut in 2005 with Taking Flight, a collection of live and filmed work that showcased a range of gravity-defying skills. G&L’s new touring production, Shift, is a more cohesive affair involving four British choreographers – Charlotte Vincent, Charles Linehan and the Stomp co-creators Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas – whose task was to concoct the component parts of one continuous piece of entertainment. Their common ground was the former aerialist and sculptor Mish Weaver’s protean set.

Alongside cables and rigging, Weaver’s most unconventional material is wood, which takes such forms as a raft of planks or the rungs of a rope ladder. Throughout the succeeding 90 minutes or so, much of this paraphernalia is periodically taken apart and reassembled. There was perhaps a bit too much of this during last week’s debut performance at the Corn Exchange, Newbury. If, on the other hand, you happen to like observing even the simplest mechanics of a set change, prepare to be thoroughly engaged.

It helps that Butcher has chosen her collaborators wisely. Vincent’s cast – Guy Adams, Vanessa Cook, Jennifer Paterson and Butcher herself – play up the idea of theatrical temperament. The women’s exasperation at Adams’s inexplicably reckless behaviour is punctuated by brief, playful duets with him. But it is Butcher, silver-haired and serene, who sails away with the top honours in a fine-spun duet with one of Weaver’s planks. Woman and wood whirl round each other like lovers, and with such beauty and precision that it catches at the heartstrings.

For Linehan’s contribution, Scott Smith joins Butcher in a subtle display of manipulations and counterbalances set to a selection of American country-folk music. The piece benefits from the duo’s mutual trust, maturity and sly sense of humour. Hanging from a rope at her waist, Butcher floats around Smith like a persistent thought gently teasing his mind.

The climax of Shift turned out to be a damp squib. Cresswell and McNicholas have the company convert the set into a giant percussion instrument that jiggles and bangs promisingly. But the rhythms fail to build sufficiently, leaving the goodwill the show generates suspended in an air of unfulfilled expectations.