Review: Pari Passu … touch

by Jane

When we think of screens now so often we think of touch screens, of shiny veneers which respond directly to a swipe here, a pinch here. The trouble with this concept is it is a process which is almost entirely devoid of what touch can truly be: responsive, personal, instinctive to movement. The way we touch something is modulated through the response, the feel, the shape of the thing we are touching. A touch screen will always feel the same sleek surface. We’re touching them, yes. But it’s a faked touch. Harsh. Unemotional. Unconnected.

I found Leigh Warren’s Pari Passu … touch this same feeling. As soon as you place a word in a title (the beginning, Pari Passu, is Latin for “on equal footing”) of course there are parallels which an audience will place onto the work. So where I looked for touch, I saw very little. The four performers danced with near no emotion on their faces, concentrating on the technique to the loss of the touch.  Even as the dancers paired, the touch seemed lacking. They are physically touching each other, yes, but is this extending beyond the machinations of choreography?  A grab here, a lift there: but was there a feeling behind the touch? Or is that all we have now? The fakeness of a technological response; touching without being touched.

The singular exception was Lisa Griffiths in a solo bringing a slight but object joy as she looked out at the audience with a flittering smile on her face. These moments of the performance immediately elevated the work, bringing that connection which can be behind a touch to the work. Unfortunately, at the same time, it highlights the lack of emotion through the rest of the work.

Adam Synnott’s projection work, starting as, yes, a touch screen, manipulated by and part of the dance, was unfortunately relegated to little more than a screen saver by the end of the performance. Colours modulating through slight variation in pattern with little connection to the dance performed in front of it. It was the moments when they were treated like touch screens, the dancers manipulating the images where meaning was brought to their presence: to highlight them when they were apart from the dancers seemed confused.

No doubt influenced by Mary Moore’s set design, Benjamin Cisterne’s lighting design – in terms of the light, but even more so in the physical arrangement of the lights – was the strongest visual element to the work. On the rig, lights arranged in a spiral. To the sides of the stage stood banks of lights. The combination of the physical properties of the lights and the lighting elevated the work, if sometimes obscuring with too much deliberate shadow.

Alistair Trung’s garments straddled a strange nether region between matched and mismatched, which highlighted differences in an unfortunate way. Three tops were made from a material of parallel lines, the fourth from cross-hatch. Two shorts were of thin parallel line, one pair with think parallel lines, one pair block grey. And, look, I’m petty, the dirty white socks annoyed me.

When the work really gets down to the essential – Warren’s choreography and Synott’s music, from electronica, soft sounds scraping over each other, to cellos, the bowing and plucking tumbling over each other  – it is carried in the assured hands of the dancers. While, yes, I wished there to be more connection to each other or to the audience beyond technicality, the four dancers juttering in reaction to the electronica, smooth sliding over and through each other in response to strings showed us confident choreography and precise dance. I only wish this hadn’t been hidden under dark lights, in front of unnecessary screens, and without emotion.

Touch is in the work, in the dancers, in Synott’s screens, in Warren’s choreography. It’s an unconnected touch. And I felt utterly unconnected.

Leigh Warren & Dancers presents Pari Passu … touch. Choreographed by Leigh Warren, Music composition and projection design by Adam Synnott, set design by Mary Moore, lighting design by Benjamin Cisterne, garments by Alistair Trung. Performed by Bec Jones, Jesse Martin, Lisa Griffiths and Timothy Farrar. At the Space Theatre, season closed.