STAGE REVIEW: Eliot Smith Company @ The Holy Biscuit, Newcastle (15.11.17) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

Narc. Magazine Online

Reliably informed

Rooted in the rich heritage of the region, choreographer Eliot Smith draws upon the spirit of innovation, invention, protest and courage that characterises the heroes of the North East in his latest work Portraits of Courage. He’s done his research; he’s known for being thorough and it shows. He takes each character and translates emotional experience into the intensely physical expression that is contemporary dance.

So how is this contemporary if it represents Victorian heroes? Because the themes are timeless; human nature remains the same. In this intimate space at the Holy Biscuit, you can hear every breath and see every glance. You’re enveloped by the movement, caught up in the emotion. You connect with the human spirit expressed through fresh, exciting and excellently executed choreography. The Emily Wilding Davison tableau is a powerful example to all who believe in justice and equality, exploring that inevitable path of sacrifice you follow when you believe in a cause. It’s this that speaks into the contemporary world and that speaks to the soul.

Nicholas Tredera, a newcomer to the Eliot Smith Company, presents an imperious George Stephenson wonderfully in his debut performance complete with striking cloak and top hat, demonstrating how ESC continue to skilfully tread that fine line between literal and contemporary as he explores the use of costume, props, sound effects, lighting, staging and music.

In Moonlight, we move away from the specific to the universal; any man, any woman – and the growing love between them. ESC Principals Gemma Paganelli and Yamit Salazar perform a tender and yet athletic pas de deux to the haunting Screaming Silence by Luca D’Alberto. The ever-changing expressions on their faces relate their story as much as their intertwining bodies: these two dancers embody character in such a special way.

The next chapter in Pitman is then revealed. The first five selected paintings from the Pitmen Painters were so vividly and successfully brought to life by ESC a year ago and now Eliot Smith has chosen three new paintings to develop through dance. The final scene, The Xmas Tree, includes three community participants – Caroline Dean and children Sophie Bulmer and Matthew Leitch – who all give a superb performance and bring an added sense of family to such a festive tableau. Tears were shed.

Whilst it was a disappointment to many not to see the hugely talented Eliot Smith himself dancing on this occasion, it’s clear that Eliot is pushing the boundaries of his art form in daring works that draw on the past to inform the present, that draw on the known to venture into the unknown: works that impress with their depth of technique, precision and originality and yet are accessible and appealing to audiences new to the dance world.

If Eliot Smith is on a mission to drag contemporary dance out of the studio into the wider world, then he has succeeded, as the audience leave with preconceptions challenged and eyes opened wide to the exciting adventure that is contemporary dance.

Like this story? Share it!