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'Arrangement', Joe Moran / Dance Art Foundation - Sadler's Wells

On 29th November, choreographer Joe Moran and the Dance Art Foundation invited the audience into Sadler’s Wells' cozy and intimate Lillian Baylis Studio to present two new pieces of contemporary dance: the twelve-minute solo, Decommission, and the fifty-minute Arrangement, performed by six male dancers. The overarching theme is masculinity, exploring both its toxicity as well as its beauty. Both pieces are performed without music, yet the sweeping feet and gasping bodies make up for a strong and biting melody.

Decommission follows dancer Temipote Ajose-Cutting: dressed in a bright red jumpsuit, the dancer enters with a genderless presence. Filled with frustration and suffocation, they fall to the ground, jump up, squirming as if there is an evil spirit which must leave the body. Then, the lights turn off. The audience can still hear the sounds of movement, the kicking, jumping and turning, yet when the light is turned on again, the dancer is frozen in thought. The sounds grow louder, which the audience experience but cannot see. Then, the dancer falls to the ground into a fetus-like position. The audience feel the emptiness and blankness of the dancer’s frustration. Yet as the minutes go by, the audience shift nervously - the silence and lack of motion take their time. Perhaps it is this sense of unease that choreographer Joe Moran strives to create, in which case, he succeeds.

Photo by David Edwards

The second piece, Arrangement, surpasses the previous. Six male dancers huddle together, dressed in a crossover between overtly feminine clothing and chunky male sportswear; their resemblance to a rugby scrummage is striking. The interlocked bodies push and pull the others, creating an organic image of movement. Some dancers try to escape the grasping huddle but, as the pressure of the group increases, they are countered with force and dragged back into the scrum. The moment that two of the dancers succeed, the group breaks up and vanishes into thin air, as if it had never existed.

This theme of collective pressure continues as one of the dancers breaks into a beautiful contemporary solo. Another joins him, not dancing but closely guiding his movements. Though there is a strong contrast between the former's elegance and the latter's robust and angular guidance, the audience is still able to take part in a relationship of intimacy, experiencing the fascination, friendship and love between dancer and guide. Their fragile beauty is broken up by the other dancers' entry, blocking the mechanisms of the two. What started as a loving encounter mutates into sport-like imagery wherein the dancers cover and withhold one other from engaging with the elegance of the first.

Photo by David Edwards

Toxic masculinity moves to the forefront when, after a series of contemporary dance sequences, one of the dancers confronts the audience, shouting "good". He repeats the word, shifting the intonation, and channelling the mixed feelings accompanying the word. Soon, "good" is exchanged for "bad". The other dancers join in, repeating the words of judgement. As they continue to exclaim sounds of approval, they form a six body-layered wheelbarrow, moving across the space of the room. "Good" and "bad" mix with "yes" and "no", presenting the audience with the words we have grown up to love or loathe.

Arrangement tackles powerful themes: a sociological analysis of toxic masculinity and the need to fit in are translated into movement. Yet within the piece, there is space for laughter. In an interactive section, each dancer stands in front of the audience and answers a variety of questions. One dancer is asked whether his favourite colour is purple (he was wearing a purple shirt), another if he had shaven today (no, it was Movember), yet another whether he was having a good time (yes), if they were single (no comment) and what they wish they were doing at the moment (exactly what they had been doing - dancing, being, living).

Photo by David Edwards

Both the scenography and lighting of white, grey and blue were simple and sober - this was well chosen, as an abundance of colours and objects would have distracted from the already vibrant costumes and the six dancers' theatrical encounters.

Contrasting between elegant, organic movements and sport-like robustness, Joe Moran embraces a multifaceted masculinity characterised by hostility, pressure, friendship and love. The music-less piece is never silent, with the diverse movements and sounds of the six dancers instead filling up the room with a strong presence.

Edited by Alexia McDonald, Head Digital Editor