Emergence is the postgraduate dance company formed in collaboration between Joss Arnott Dance and the University of Salford. It is a professionally focused course aimed at students studying MA Dance Performance and Professional Practices at the university. Each year, a new group of dancers work with Artistic Director, Joss Arnott, to co-produce an exciting programme of new performance pieces.
After reviewing their previous work at Sale Waterside Arts, I was invited to the preview of their 2020 triple bill programme at Salford’s New Adelphi Theatre.
The first piece in the programme is Fuel. At fifteen minutes long, this is the shortest piece of the evening. It is performed by six dancers, who begin by releasing chilling silent screams, immediately grabbing the audience’s attention. Three of the dancers have their hands on top of the others’ heads, controlling them, like puppet masters. When they dance, a singular part of their bodies remain joined together, expressing the power and force of the joined collective.
Gradually, the group is broken up, as the dancers break into their own solo units. Perfectly choreographed, they remain in synchronisation, echoing each other’s movements, despite being separate entities. Dance is an entirely subjective art form, but I feel that Fuel conveys the message that even if you are alone, you have to conform to those in power; that individuality is suppressed. This is a theme that runs across the programme.
I have to admit, compared to the other two pieces, Fuel is the weakest of the three works. This is no fault of the work itself, or the dancers, who are all incredibly skilled. Rather, the other two are so striking and visceral, that they are more impactful and memorable to the audience. Sadly, Fuel ends up being overshadowed by the phenomenal pieces that follow it.
An Event is the second dance in the programme, and is inspired by Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The remaining six dancers in the company perform this piece, which examines how people react when freedom is lost. It begins by depicting life beforehand; a time of happiness and boundless energy. The sextet of female dancers perform a dance-off against each other to Fever Ray‘s contemporary, energetic musical composition, reminding me of the music video of Run DMC and Jason Nevis’ It’s Like That.
James Wilton collaborated with the company’s dancers to devise the choreography of An Event. It is heavily influenced by hip-hop, involving break-dancing, locking and popping, as the women showboat and boast. Rebecca Coleman‘s costumes are inspired, with each dancer wearing a vivid red jumpsuit, reinforcing the youthful modernity of the piece.
Suddenly, the jovial mood is broken, as a blinding white light shines from stage right. A deafening rumbling accompanies the light, drowning out the music, disturbing the dancers’ fun. Gradually walking towards the light, they disappear off stage, before re-entering wearing the iconic white headscarves from Margaret Atwood’s novel, along with red shawls.
The mood turns dystopian, and the oppression is stifling. The dance is now altered to muted, more classical choreography. The women dare not look at each other, as one of the dancers becomes a matriarchal figure, violently forcing the gaze of the young women towards the floor.
This piece is profoundly powerful, with striking, haunting imagery. It is my favourite dance of the programme, leaving a lasting, memorable impression.
The final piece, When Worlds Collide, is an extended, revised version of the work that was staged at Sale Waterside earlier this year. It has stuck in my mind since then because of James Keane‘s epic musical score. It is high octane, adrenaline fuelled, and has all the hallmarks of a Hans Zimmer composition. Keane’s resounding score wouldn’t seem out of place in a Christopher Nolan film, and it quite literally shook the audience’s seats.
When Worlds Collide is choreographed by Joss Arnott and contrasts to the bleak dystopia of An Event, exploring the positive message of empowerment and unity, rather than brutal oppression. The full company form regimented lines, timed to perfection, representing an unbroken society. There are splinter groups of separate dancers that break away, both solo and duets, but they always fall back into line, rejoining the regimented autonomy of the formal lines. To me, this piece delivers the uplifting message an individual can be fragile and uncertain, but feel much stronger as part of a community.
It goes without saying that all the dancers in the Emergence company are phenomenally talented, with remarkable energy and stamina. This is no surprise, since they are all completing a Masters in their art.
Not only is this programme a sublime display of dance, but it is also a masterclass in lighting. Throughout the three pieces, lighting is used to astonishing effect, creating a visual spectacle. The stage is either lit from the rear, or the side, with harsh white flood-lighting. This converts the dancers into silhouettes and throws sharp shadows across the stage. Josh Tomalin’s stunning lighting design lends the piece a cinematic quality that is particularly dramatic when the full company form their regimented lines.
It was an honour to be invited to this preview of Joss Arnott‘s exciting programme of dance. It will be touring at the UK in spring 2020, visiting the following locations:-
28th January 2020 – Stage @ Leeds
29th January 2020 – Alnwick Playhouse
31st January 2020 – EM Forster Theatre, Tonbridge
4th February 2020 – The Space, Dundee
11th February 2020 – Cornerstone Arts Centre, Didcot
14th February 2020 – Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton
5th March 2020 – Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal
6th March 2020 – Harrogate Theatre
21st March 2020 – Sale Waterside Arts
31st March 2020 – The Place, London