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Joey Barton and Kennedy Junior MuntangaGrown men keep breaking my heart

Ed MitchellLife goes on

Petronella WiehahnGathering Clouds

Kennedy Junior Muntanga relied as much on the audience’s vulnerability as his own with the night’s opening solo: Grown Men Keep Breaking My Heart. Muntanga doesn’t so much break the fourth wall, but reaches across it, casting unsuspecting audience members as his family and friends to help him tell a story about his frustrations with his father. Although this can be risky at times, the raw openness of Muntanga’s storytelling – both through his words and physicality – made it hard to not be won over by his performance. His tight dynamic variation and control, as he switched between whirlwind limbs blurring through space, and breathy, percussive throws and hits in his closing solo, was particularly enthralling. The tension was palpable as the lights faded out.

The power of physical expression was reinforced in the next piece: Ed Mitchell’s intricate duet Life Goes On. As a pair, dancers Grace Ford and Edan Carter displayed meticulous synchronicity, their chemistry proving a real treat to watch. An astute meditation on dealing with – or repressing – adversity, the subtle humour of the piece stopped it tipping over into pretentiousness. Sudden, rippling contractions were contrasted with rigid, angular contortions. As each dancer’s solo saw them plastering a smile on their face when exposed directly to the audience, an increasingly desperate attempt to put on a brave face despite hard times became apparent. A memorable performance of playful, yet thoughtful choreography.

Maintaining the drama but bringing an edgier tone, Petronella Wiehahn’sGathering Clouds closed the night. This was possibly the coolest interpretation of stormy weather I’ve ever seen. The dry ice, moody, flashing lighting, and eerie, electronic soundscape felt like The Place had been transformed into a warehouse rave. You could feel the awe in the theatre as the first soloist entered to pulsing, heavy techno beats, commanding our attention with her effortlessly fluid and bold movement. With a clear hip-hop influence throughout, the individual personality of each dancer shined through even when in unison – a stylistic choice which I enjoyed but might not be for everyone.

Melina Block

“Do you think that’s what he said?” Kennedy Junior Muntanga challenged an audience member halfway through Grown Men Keep Breaking My Heart, choreographed with Joey Barton. He’d drafted the man to stand in as his father, probing him on a painful adolescent memory. Most of the work proceeds this way, with around ten unsuspecting viewers co-opted to provide poses and dialogue. The worry you might be next hung heavy across the auditorium – Muntanga even joked about how obviously we were shrinking from him. You could feel the tension lift in the brief moments when the lights dimmed and he retreated into dance – lyrical currents peppered with thundering runs and sharp exhalations. He’s a poised, passionate mover, wresting himself into magnificent curves as he traces half-moons across the stage. To kick things off, Muntanga set us a breathing exercise to “bring us all into the same space.” Ironically, I found the distance between audience and dancer only shortened once he stopped relying on us to help fuel the performance.

Dance and physical theatre combine in Ed Mitchell’sLife Goes On, a crisp duet that ventures into mime territory. Dressed in stripes, Grace Ford and Edan Carter swoop and teeter-totter against an electric blue backdrop, doling out jerky on-demand smiles. The showmanship isn’t enough to budge their heavy-lidded melancholy. The two grab the levity where they can, including a quick gag with an old-school Pin Art mould. They complement each other wonderfully, striding in tidy equilibrium right down to the abrupt closing nod.

Contrast this with the free flow of Petronella Wiehahn’sGathering Clouds, where six dancers gust against a whooshing soundscape that takes in gales, streams, creaturely squawks and the odd techno bleat. There’s a sense of sheltering together, the troupe united against bigger forces. They bring a lightning energy to Wiehahn’s wiggly choreography, with its jolts to the core and twitching limbs to follow. A street edge allows for some electric individual flair, even in the tight-bodied unison sections.

Sara Veale