by Charlotte Constable
This evening The Point saw the world premiere of Lîla Dance’s The Incredible Presence of a Remarkable Absence, a tragic comedy informed by Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.
The first of a double bill, the evening opened with A Readiness, a charming but unnerving duet performed by Abi Mortimer and Carrie Whitaker— the co-founders of the dance company. The two women at first appear dreamily at ease, Whitaker’s head resting in Mortimer’s lap. This sisterly stance, together with the competitive energy that follows, reeks of David Parsons and Daniel Ezralow’s 1985 duet Brothers but Dougie Evans’s sinister soundtrack of monotone beats, low humming bass, and chiming bells provide darker undertones.
The women quickly begin a constant fight to get ahead. Mortimer leaps upwards; Whitaker falls. Whitaker clambers forwards on her hands and knees, desperate to keep up, whilst Mortimer casually strolls beside her. There is a playfulness – Mortimer peeping upwards sneakily whilst lying on her stomach, keeping a beady on her competition – but the technicality is no mean feat either, with plenty of creative and unpredictable contact. Whitaker in particular is an absolute spectacle of a performer, the very definition of physicality.
The Incredible Presence of a Remarkable Absence offers a drastic change in style, opening with four dancers – two men (Joe Darby and Kai Downham) and two women (Whitaker and Aya Kobayashi) – engaging in frantic, nonsensical debate over who spoke first in-between long, narrow-eyed stares into a dusty distance. Alice Searle’s costume design, together with the warm lighting of Vince Field, instantly catapults the audience to the Depression: the characters are dressed in braces, dull trousers, and cotton shirts, all carrying hats and sacks.
When moving together at counterpoint, the dancers tumble from one tableau to the next with a constant sense of imbalance in each; Whitaker tugs Downham towards her with one arm whilst stilling a flailing Kobayashi’s waist with the other. Their fragile clinging indicates total dependency upon each other’s existence, despite Kobayashi’s character’s constant dream-like state in which she stares beyond the audience, her forearms bent at waist height, fingers twitching, mouth muttering. Most desperately of all, they struggle to articulate their reason for existence, with one highlight being the stuttering performance of Darby as he puffs his cheeks in anticipation of a word which is just on the tip of his tongue.
The audience feel an agitation akin to that of the character; despite the relatively short fifty minute running time my patience is tested with the constant nearly-theres and not-quites. I hoped for something a little more poignant or unsettling after Downham’s character ties a noose around his neck, but even following an affectionate duet in which Kobayashi entangles herself in the other end of the rope as a show of support no great shock follows.
That said, there is an unusual surprise in the appearance of a hugely talented and engaging young cast of ten or so guest performers, possibly representing a fantasy of Darby’s character after he realises that ‘waiting’ is perhaps not the answer (“say you are happy”, he challenges the others with). A brief earlier scene of party trick demonstration is also good fun; I am captivated as the four characters slide beyond the stage into viewer territory, singling out audience members to join in a clapping rhythm for their own entertainment.
Some intelligent use of language – the rhythmic stammering mimicked in the twitching of the body, and sometimes coloured with harmonies – is certainly imaginative and has potential for further development. It is this original body-voice notion, together with some strong acting (particularly in the performance of Darby), which holds the most exciting promise for Lîla Dance.