David Hughes, Lilian Baylis Theatre at Sadler's Wells, London

Asserting a smooth craft

Review,Nadine Meisner
Monday 16 December 2013 05:24
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With just his body, a few music tapes and an empty stage, David Hughes's solo recital Map creates dance pictures so vivid they populate your mind long after. He does, though, have the help of four of the classiest choreographers around, choreographers who have been landmarks in the map of his own dancing career. It's a measure of their high esteem for him that they should have responded to his invitation with four short pieces that any dancer would die for.

Hughes's CV includes dancing with London Contemporary Dance Theatre (now sadly defunct), Rambert Dance Company and recently Random Dance Company, whose director Wayne McGregor choreographed the show's opening piece, After Pneuma, set to computer-generated music. Inspired by Bill Viola's video film Pneuma where the images are made to disintegrate, McGregor has set out to disrupt pure geometries with zigzag distortions – "almost," as he says, "like a physical schizophrenia".

The result, to be honest, doesn't look much different from McGregor's familiar futuristic classicism, a pared linearity with strangely elaborate angles, in the mould of McGregor's own distinctively elongated silhouette. At first it was hard not to see McGregor dancing instead of Hughes. But slowly Hughes's totally dissimilar, blunt morphology, took a hold, giving a new juice and weight to the language.

The veteran choreographer Bob Cohan's Adagietto, a personal, emotional interpretation of the famous slow passage from Mahler's 5th Symphony, represents an orthodox aesthetic of smoothly crafted movement. Hughes's assertive lines come into play, as he sits in a chair, or stands, arms opening out to embrace the air.

Hurricane, by Rambert's director Christopher Bruce, is contrastingly specific in its narrative and non-dancerly in its pantomimic enactment of Bob Dylan's song about the real-life boxer Reuben "Hurricane" Carter, who was framed for murder. The piece is now also in the Rambert repertoire, but no one else can match Hughes's gestural charisma, his face painted white as life's tragic clown.

Best of all is Siobhan Davies's L'Après-midi d'un faune which miraculously combines echoes of Nijinsky's faun with a host of other references, all compressed into 10 minutes. The faun's flattened hands become like fins as Hughes swims and dives and floats through Debussy's music. He languishes in the summer heat and cool shade, he is feral and elusive, he makes sudden switches from stillness to action. Davies felt cheeky using such historically loaded music, but she saw a similarity between Nijinsky and Hughes, who belong to different centuries yet are equally "vibrant in their stillness". We know this, because she says so on a film by Darshan Singh Bhuller which forms the remaining component of Map. Consisting of interviews with each choreographer, it gives Hughes time to put on his make-up for Hurricane. But it also provides an informative and unusual twist to this intelligently constructed programme, given its final performance for this year.

A solo dance recital is a necessarily small-scale, intimate form. Map, therefore, is never going to set the world on fire, but it reminds us of why people dance and why we should watch them.

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