By Karl Newman
Artificial Things by Stopgap Dance Company is the debut stage production for artistic director Lucy Bennett, who was appointed in 2012. It marks the transition for Stopgap as a repertory to a choreographer–led company and is an important moment in their 19 year quest to seamlessly integrate dancers with and without impairments.
Performed by dancers Amy Butler, Laura Jones, Chris Pavia, Dave Toole and David Willdridge Artificial Things is a work divided into three scenes. I watched it as a member of an enthusiastic audience at the University of Surrey’s Ivy Art Centre and loved it! This is excellent dance theatre with the texture, intensity, wit and downright weirdness of a Tom Waits record.
Lucy Bennett is a dance artist who thinks in pictures and Artificial Things is the most accomplished work I’ve seen from Stopgap, especially as a visual spectacle. The set design, including the first ever use of a backdrop by the company, lighting, props and Anna Jones’ costume design presented in a palette of dirty oranges and muted grey green blues combined to create a faded retro feel of lost dreams and faded glamour. Flashes of contemporary red appeared too, which hinted at the simmering tensions that began to develop between characters during opening scene passages of restrained and elegant movement by guest choreographer, Yoshifumi Inao.
Bennett describes the genesis for Artificial Things as an imagined picture of dancer Laura Jones, sitting on top of her collapsed wheelchair within an urban setting with snow falling around her as if in a snow globe. This tableau is revealed at the start of the third scene, which unfolds to present a gentle and engrossing duet by wheelchair-less and seemingly weightless dancers, Laura Jones and Dave Toole. Framed by Charhine Yavrovan’s beautiful lighting the audience’s attention is drawn to the smallest of movements, gestures and Dave Toole’s characterful facial expressions.
In her waking vision of a snow globe and perhaps inspired by the recent British weather, Lucy Bennett decided that the whole scene needed a good shake up and there is most certainly a whole lot of shaking going on; a force 10 gale is unleashed in scene two when tensions finally break through, the music intensifies and all manner of wheeled devices are released on stage.
The choreography and characterisation is based upon Stopgap’s diverse cast of highly individual dancers, each bringing great strengths and vulnerabilities. Through intense collaboration and experimentation, movement has been created that is exhilarating, funny and truly innovative - you will see lifts here that will never feature on Strictly Come Dancing!
Dave Toole and Chris Pavia are framed within a wheeled glass vitrine to fantastic and tragic-humorous effect, and through clever use of a mirror, Amy Butler swaps heads with Chris Pavia for a few seconds. There are hugely enjoyable uses of props and creative tricks like this peppered throughout and it would be unkind to reveal any more as there is delight in the reveal to the audience. Go see it for yourself!