Artificial Things review – Sophie Fiennes directs slow journey towards joy | Stage

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In an empty shopping centre, against a backdrop of broken ceiling tiles, painted-out windows, shabby fittings and “Please pay here” signs, film-maker Sophie Fiennes gives us a drained palette of beige, grey and porridge white, peeling at the edges. It all lends an abandoned air to Stopgap Dance Company’s Artificial Things.

Founded 23 years ago, Stopgap is an inclusive company bringing together disabled and non-disabled dancers. The result being dance that expands on the different ways bodies, and people, relate to one another. This film, made in 2018, is a half-hour reimagining of a 90-minute stage work, in which Fiennes has changed the setting and reordered the scenes of choreographer Lucy Bennett’s original to make, essentially, a new piece. The more fully realised stage version was about a group of people living in suffocating closeness; here the dramaturgy is watered down like the colour palette, but it does create a subtle mood of slow, quiet suspension, even if there’s not much meat on its bones.

There’s a strong early solo from dancer Chris Pavia, which, thanks to the shopfloor setting and Pavia’s beige suit, suggests an officious middle manager; it is full of stilted frustrations and petty victories. Witnessing Pavia’s outbursts is the unruffleable David Toole, master of the world-weary raised eyebrow, who moves into a sweet duet with Laura Jones and a wheelchair. There are hints of exceedingly slowed down swing dance from Amy Butler and David Willdridge, as they take turns to lift each other’s weight while always looking past each other with fearful faces. And from a quartet of carefully entwined bodies comes a single, quietly climactic moment, as Willdridge uses his feet to lift Toole (who has no legs) high up into the air: the pose triumphant, the reactions stubbornly neutral.

It ends on a hopeful note as the unease is finally vanquished in a joyful finale and the dancers burst out of their malaise. Until then, this is a curiously muted film but it asks for close attention – the expression playing on Jones’s face always suggests there’s much more going on than simply the (in)action of the choreography.

Artificial Things is available until 1 September.

Source: The Guardian
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