SKIN, The Place, London


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There's a lot of self-consciousness in Pia Meuthen's dance work SKIN, starting with the audience.

The work is performed in the round, with performers sitting just inside a fine gauze barrier. Four dancers encounter each other in the centre, everyone trying to deal with everyday contact while hoping to meet someone. Sometimes they include the audience in the conversation; you might find yourself with a dancer writhing across your feet.

Born in Germany, Meuthen is now based in the Netherlands with her own company Panama Pictures. SKIN , designed by Katleen Vinck, suggests a stylised everyday world. Inside and outside the gauze ring, railings and tree stumps suggest a park, though the trees are painted pale grey. Jan Van Kampen's bleached lighting is harsh and industrial.

To a soundtrack of traffic noise, the dancers come and go outside the ring, dressed in street clothes. Once inside, they ignore or jostle past each other. We hear their thoughts in voiceover: Andrea Beugger worries about her false modesty, her failure to return phone calls. She could fix this, but not with the friends she already has: "I need new people".

Lucius Romeo Fromm nervously introduces himself to everybody, shaking hands for far too long. Aurélie Camil seems responsive, but he's far too twitchy to notice; still needy, he keeps moving on to the next person. Miguel Fion Durán seems the most confident, though he finds it hard to stop talking. The soundtrack, by Jeroen Strijbos and Rob van Rijswijk, goes from hubbub to beats or atmospheric chords.

Though they manage to make contact, the dancers can't stick with it. They drift off again, moving into dances, perching on benches with the audience and wriggling on again. Sometimes they sidle into each other's dances. As Beugger sweeps one leg into the air, Fromm crawls under it, until she's climbing over him. The dances are full of reaching and clutching. Even when they're wrapped around each other, nobody gets a secure hold.

Meuthen's picture of insecurity and need is familiar, but often nicely observed. Her characters see life as a test they're not quite passing. As they go through the awkwardness of day-to-day contact, the brightly-lit performance space pushes their social unease into the audience: we may have to deal with it, and them.

Run ended