There are few elements of the theatrical world that Civilian Theatre feels less qualified to talk about than cutting edge contemporary dance. Any reviewer who fits shows into their free time will eventually reach a point when you accept there is only so much they can actually watch and, as a result, an element of self-selection may creep into what press shows are attended.
So it is entirely possible that – had I read the programme notes for Gecko’s Missing more closely rather than be seduced by the intriguing image that accompanies it –the words ‘critically acclaimed physical dance company’ may have registered and I wouldn’t have crossed London to make it to the Battersea Arts Centre to watch their show.
And what a fool I would have been.
Missing is an intelligent, beautiful show that speaks volumes even to the choreographically illiterate. It may not have transformed my overall impressions about contemporary dance but it has shown that the form can be used to tell a story just as clearly as through the use of words.
The difference between Gecko and other shows I have seen is that the performance lacks the abstraction that can leave the inexperienced scratching their heads. Previously I have been unable to translate a plot synopsis to what I have been watching but here the narrative progression was entirely clear and the company seemed focussed on not losing its audience. Scenes took place within established settings and the movements between performers seemed structured to reflect traditional conversations but with the added advantage that dance allows of allowing the text and subtext of character motivations to interweave in their actions.
There was also little of the po-faced seriousness that has been a marked feature of my previous encounters with contemporary dance. Whilst the topic itself was treated seriously, they also found the humour that can be mined out of the awkwardness of relationships. The fracture lines that marked Lily’s marriage were played to great comic effect in a simple scene showing how they were unable to sit comfortably together watching a film, whilst the meeting of her parents became a slapstick encounter made more poignant with the knowledge of how it would eventually disintegrate.
Whilst not being best placed to comment on the choreography, the modern sequences felt simple, grounded and without any unnecessary flamboyance; inhabiting the characters of everyday people, the performances felt rooted in the way that normal people might dance. One suspects it takes an awful lot of work to refine dance to the extent that it might appear so simple.
This approach helped mark a contrast with flashback scenes to Lily’s childhood. There were some wonderful scenes involving her dancer mother that provided the opportunity for more classical sequences and were a joy to watch. There are also highly technical scenes where the disintegrating relationship is shown through the parents flickering between loving and argumentative states. The skill in the transitions and the way they created near-simultaneous parallel states was quite remarkable and a high point of the show.
One of the most enjoyable elements of Gecko’s production is the highly technical nature of the staging. The production is supported by a fantastic lighting design, which finds innovative ways of bringing your focus to where it is needed. They make wonderful use of flexible lit screens that move around the stage and can artificially box the large space into self-contained units. These immediately break down the action and force attention where it is needed. As a result you are directed towards what the show wants you to watch, and at times it feels not unlike watching a film – when a performer’s face is boxed behind a screen it is the equivalent of seeing the camera cut to a close-up.
Given the show was a sell-out it is likely that those well-versed in the world of contemporary dance inked this into their diaries long ago. However let this champion Missing to those who were going to let it pass them by. It may not change your mind about the genre but it will at least open it up to the possibilities it contains.
Missing formed part of Battersea Arts Centre’s A Nation’s Theatre, dedicated to giving artists and theatre companies from around the UK the opportunity to showcase their works in the capital.
Watch a trailer