by Charlotte Constable

BGROUP – JUST AS WE ARE

Choreographed and directed by Ben Wright

7/3/13 at The Point, Eastleigh

Uniqueness. Interactions. Identity. People.

In a pre-show discussion of his new work, Just As We Are, Ben Wright explains how he believes that answering big questions about humanity is always his aim. This time he attempts to do so by addressing who exactly we are with three sections: an exploration of the self (with five perfomers); a duet; and, well… a great big disco dance.

Section One, one of us, unnerves the audience immediately by inviting an ‘audience member’ to join two performers in lab coats on-stage (namely Robert Clark and faultless apprentice dancer Andrew Gardiner). Unfortunately the guise is ineffective for those of us familiar with bgroup’s interactive style of work, who rightly assume that she, too, is one of the five performers (Allison Ahl, in fact). She is placed, arms wide open, before a projector from which all manner of adjectives and names are exposed across her chest: ‘resourceful’, ‘horny’, ‘liar’…

Once her humiliation ends, she is left in silent darkness, until the other four performers gradually reappear, taking each other on intimate yet fleeting journeys through the space. There is a relentless heavy flow of breath and occasionally barely audible mumblings. A fascination with one’s anatomy seems to dominate as performers stretch and sculpt each other’s faces and ponder the flexibility of their curling fingers. Relationships are constantly redefined, yet frequently it is only the two women (Ahl and Lise Manavit) who are, one at a time, lifted by all limbs or embraced by the some or all of the men (Clark, Gardiner and Michael Barnes), the excluded observing like lonely voyeurs.

The highlight of the night is the beautifully choreographed duet of Section Two, entitled – you guessed it – two of us. The men in white coats appear again, struggling to articulate their feelings for one another without cliché, a mutual delivery with allowance for flexible dialect and re-wording. The content is sensitive, but their clumsy nature gets plenty of laughs. Their exit initiates the entrance of Barnes and Manavit, the latter observing as the former literally takes the spotlight. He ripples, grows, unfolds and scuttles as though awakening a beast inside, before she strides into his space, imitating his gestures and engaging in fragmented support. This sense of incomplete intimacy never quite departs, with brief, jarring embraces, the palms left feeling the air, and forceful pushes apart which result in bittersweet grins. The duet takes on a whole new level of desire as Jon Byrne begins to play an elegant, lingering piano piece live on stage behind the spotlight; they tumble over one another, lean face to face and upside down, heady and enticing. This is a relationship undefined.

With the immensely detailed material seen in the first two sections, it seems almost a shame that the finale is so entirely dissimilar. In all of us, 15 participants are invited to join in a disco dance class after we are given a brief lecture on how joining in will make us feel better. Yes, it does that – even from my seat I try to copy the moves, and I very much enjoy my rainbow-effect 3D glasses – but it perhaps would have been nice to explore the theme of unity with the depth and complexity that Wright is clearly capable of. That said, what Wright does well is humour, and his aim was indeed humorous – in this section, he simply wanted to make us happy by bringing us together. The very elegant animation seen before the ‘disco’, a projected image of an elephant lifted away by birds, hints at his true intentions.

Three stars ***