Review: And We Gather

There are many different ways to be conventional. We can dress the same as those around us, we can fall in love with the kind of people our parents expect us to and we can subscribe wholeheartedly to the cultural traditions established many decades ago. In And We Gather – two dances split down gendered lines – the A.D. Dance Company shed light on many of these patterns of conformity, and manage to explore how we might break the mould.

The first of the two pieces has an intelligent feel. The two graceful female dancers assert a rare and delicate control. They lean, they fall and they are carried, and yet the choreography is so nuanced that they never let their four male counterparts dominate the stage.

Throughout this work, the performers exhibit a real togetherness and attention to detail, even when they are still. Held glances and frozen embraces are charged with meaning, breeding numerous little erotically-charged interactions and sub-stories.

But while we are led to speculate on the nature of these relationships, the real narrative of the first piece traces the history of dance. The A.D. Dance Company specialises in contemporary ballet, and this work exposes the somewhat oxymoronic quality of this discipline. Beginning with a single dancer showcasing classical moves, the piece developes to echo the styles of important modern British choreographers. As the company dancers speechlessly demonstrate their rich education, the piece leaves many of us in the audience behind. That said, there is something special about being lost in UK choreography, navigating without a map.

And there were plenty of opportunities to stop and admire the scenery in this beautifully lit production, where shadows are choreographed with as much artistic vision as the dancers. In one particularly striking moment three dancers knit together, their double shadows combining so that nine figures move on stage. This poetic visual quality is reinforced by the sound design: buoyant tracks in minor keys contribute to the occasional hypnotic moment.

While the first piece seems largely concerned with how we break from cultural conventions, the second tackles more personal takes on conformity.  The dancers return to the stage wearing white shirts in a nod to City conformity, yet the subtle variety of styles and accessories immediately suggests a group ready to break free. This move away from expectation is reinforced as the performers reconfigure the stage using rolls of masking tape. As each dancer bends down to seal off their own small box to stand in, the company adds a welcome playful element to its interpretative challenging of those who stay within the box.

In this second, more masculine piece, the dancers stand statuesquely in their own defined areas, waiting for their choreographed moment to kick in. As they look out fiercely at their audience and demand interpretation, they charge the atmosphere with expectation. This mood is reinforced by loud electronic feedback that blends into operatic squeals. Evidently And We Gather is not meant to be comfortable watching.

The division between the two gendered pieces is communicated with sensitivity and flair by artistic director and choreographer, Holly Noble. Yes, the dancers may try to pull off the pulled heart-string move a little too often, and some of the discussions relating to sexuality may be lost in the liberal form of contemporary dance, but overall And We Gather uses soulful, sophisticated choreography to showcase a skilled and promising body of dancers.

And We Gather is playing at the Yard Theatre until 28th July. For more information and tickets, see the Yard Theatre website.