In Gravity of Center, RUBBERBANDance Group literally pushes its dancers to the brink. Early on, the five dancers scurry up to the front of the stage, where one of them lurches out, starting to fall. The others are only just in time to save him, grabbing hold of his arms or clutching at his clothes. The audience audibly catches its breath.
Founded in 2002, the Montreal-based group borrows its choreographer’s nickname. As a hip hop dancer in Los Angeles, Victor Quijada was known as “Rubberband” for his bendy quality of movement. He went on to dance with modern ballet and contemporary companies before founding his own group, which draws on all those influences. It’s a loose-limbed, contemporary style, ready to open out into a stretched pose or explode with street dance flips and twists.
Gravity of Center, shown as part of the Southbank Centre's Festival of Neighbourhood, is about group dynamics. Once Daniel Mayo has been rescued from the edge, the others don’t quite know how to handle him, angry at the scare they’ve had. Quijada and his team are good at moods and reactions. The same move can be soothing or smothering; shrugs turn into testosterone-laden confrontations. The dancers find community both supportive and oppressive.
Male and female behaviour patterns feel well-observed rather than stereotyped. Emmanuelle LêPhan is reassured by Anne Plamondon, a dancer of cool authority who is also RUBBERBANDance’s associate director. LêPhan snuggles in, petted by the others, until suddenly the attention is too much. She fights her way out of their grasp, but detachment is hardest with Plamondon: she doesn’t want to hurt the other woman’s feelings.
Plamondon and Quijada, leaders of the company, are also leaders of this onstage group. Quijada pushes Mayo into outcast status, while Plamondon steps into protect him – though even her reactions are unpredictable. At one point, she seems ready to push Mayo back over the edge, apparently with his own best interests at heart. When he leaves, after a tangling, wriggling solo. From then on, we see Mayo dealing with isolation while everybody else deals with his absence.
Gravity of Center is an intelligent drama, packing a lot of emotion into its varied vocabulary. It’s weaker on pacing, particularly in a series of angsty solos. Jasper Gahunia’s score, a recording of atmospheric hums, scratches and sometimes beats, doesn’t give the work momentum. Still, this is a distinctive company, with charismatic dancers and a vivid, personal style.
Until 3 May. Box office 0844 875 0073