Founded in 1995, Clod Ensemble is very difficult to categorise, blurring the boundaries between dance, music and physical theatre. The award-winning company presents a new work entitled Zero at Sadler’s Wells, separated into five very different acts, each inspired by a projected weather forecast as a storm comes and goes.
The musical soundtrack to Zero is exhilarating. Wonderful blues singers Johnny Mars and Hazel Holder relate the weather metaphors to us, often interrupted by cleverly edited snippets of spoken word – a mixture of news reports, interviews and heated dialogues. With the raw howl of a harmonica portraying the brewing storm, discordance and dissaray take over the stage, before the turbulence dissipates and the choreography slows down.
Not only does Zero deal with the stark theme of human instinct, but it almost embodies it. Most powerfully so is, arguably, the representation of domestic abuse which is articulated with real defined strength throughout by the dancers, accompanied by deeper, more gravelly tones from the singers. The ensemble of intertwining bodies breaks up into smaller groups and more frequently solos, hinting at the destruction and a tantalising sense of risk. Occasionally the repetitions of movements go on slightly too long, particularly the charleston section, which initially had a great energy and vigour behind it.
The performers themselves come from such a vast array of backgrounds, heightening the verve and vibrancy of this company. The training of the performers varies from the L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq, Paris to the Julliard School, New York to the Rambert School. Contrary to popular ensemble dancer sterotypes, the strengths of the individuals in the company are celebrated throughout so that the differences between the performers are admitted; hence we acknowledge them all as living human beings and not mere bodies on a distant, quite separate, stage.
Renowned for its innovative use of performance space, the Clod Ensemble often limits the size of the audience in order to easily move them around to view the performance from different angles. That makes this end-on show in such a large auditorium somewhat radical for them, and most definitely a challenge. Artistic Director, and choreographer of this work, Suzy Willson identified the issue of perspective, commenting that audience members in different areas of the auditorium have such different experiences of the performance, making it incredibly difficult to work to all perspectives simultaneously. However, the performance-audience relationship is relatively strong despite Willson’s concerns. Appearing somewhat Brechtian, the performers enter the space talking and interacting with each other, openly acknowledging the audience who are waiting intently, dismissing any notion of a fourth wall.
The emphasis on the visual image is incredibly prevalent for Clod Ensemble, with influences from Jacques Lecoq and compelling artists such as Goya and Brueghal. Admittedly, the company has taken on a huge challenge in Zero by performing in a ‘regular’ theatre, using such a different space to their usual choices, and to an extent they seem to have been successful. This unique group captures the essence of society in its work; the word ‘ensemble’ really does encompass the identity of this company.
Clod Ensemble’s Zero played at Sadler’s Wells on 4 and 5 June. For more information and for tickets to upcoming shows, see the Clod Ensemble website.