In four bite-size chunks, Push showcases four dance pieces by renowned choreographer and dancer Russell Maliphant. Two of the pieces – which are chronologically titled ‘Solo’, ‘Shift’, ‘Two’ and ‘Push’ – feature Maliphant himself, with Sylvie Guillem appearing in three. Each has an individual footprint and identity. These are dance pieces, and so are entirely devoid of words, but this doesn’t stop Push being a truly magnificent spectacle bound together by the sheer talent of Maliphant and Guillem and the impressive lighting design by Michael Hulls.
Guillem opens the show with ‘Solo’, in which she dances to Carlos Montoya’s Spanish guitar melodies, and then reappears in solo piece ‘Two’ and the duet with Maliphant, the eponymous ‘Push’. Her presence on stage is always captivating – Guillem is so incredibly graceful that she can make rolling around on her knees (which, incidentally, she does frequently in ‘Solo’) look good. She is entirely in command of the elasticity of her body, and swings her legs into splits position as if it were the easiest thing in the world. This gracefulness perhaps doesn’t quite fit with the second part of ‘Solo’ – the sharp, percussion-heavy music feels as if it demands more staccato movement than Guillem lends it – but, really, this is nitpicking. Guillem is able to be graceful, ferocious and commanding over the course of the evening, and, what’s more, do so with apparent ease.
Equally impressive is Maliphant, to whose choreography we owe the evening. His “solo” piece, ‘Shift’, turns out to not actually be a solo at all: by use of Hulls’s close to ingenious lighting, Maliphant interacts with several versions of himself via shadows created on panels at the back of the stage. One moment the shadows are reaching out for each other, next they are looking away, next holding onto each other – the fact that Maliphant acknowledges his shadows during the curtain call for ‘Shift’speaks about how much of a presence they contribute to the piece. Maliphant’s dance style, though clearly difficult, looks relaxed and meshes well with the rich, earthy strings he dances to.
The titular piece, ‘Push’, sees Maliphant and Guillem come together for half an hour that speeds by as they push (and pull) each other, roll over each other in complex but fluid movements, pick each other up and manage to reach every corner of the stage space in the process. I had feared that the dance wouldn’t develop further than the original ideas put forward in the first third of the routine, but thankfully it did, presenting a well-crafted and captivating piece.
Kudos must go to Hulls, whose lighting design is, without exaggeration, incredible; it creates the perfect setting and environment in which the dances can thrive. I wasn’t as emotionally taken by the dance as much of the audience was, but it’s nonetheless impossible to deny that Push – all four pieces included – is an incredible feat both of choreography and craft of the dancers.
Push is playing at the London Coliseum until 3 August. For more information and tickets, see the ENO website.
Photo by Johan Perrson.