News Story

Hebe SalmonGiselle, this time it's about me

Ellen Finlay No Messing

Shyam DattaniDvihīna

Hebe Salmon
opens the evening with Giselle, this time it’s about me, a solo drawing inspiration from the famous ballet. Cycling between repetitive phone exchanges and pregnancy anxiety Salmon demonstrates impressive delicacy in her approach to Giselle. Considered and beautiful movements portray a waif-like quality, and an introverted text delivery endears us to the character with remarkable efficiency. Comedic flashes add further relatability, of which Giselle’s wrestling with the NHS helpline has particular poignancy; covid flashback anyone? Whilst not always cohesive, the elements of this work hang together with ease, and in modernising Giselle Salmon has possibly created a more interesting protagonist than the original; I’d certainly rather watch this version.

No Messing
can at times feel unfocused but has undeniable heart. Irish stereotyping, reflections on childhood and gender tensions pass by in a flash of colourful lunchboxes and rugby drill choreography. Ellen Finlay’s closing solo reflects frustrations of childhood kilt wearing but only briefly skims the depths of gender conformity, with brother Patrick side-lined for the duration. Yet Ellen and Patrick’s sibling bond remains engaging. Honest and heartfelt it can’t help but charm, even if the choreography on stage doesn’t break new ground. With playful glee and boundless energy the pair present unembellished reflections of themselves, and offer us the possibility that this is enough. Perhaps it is. I certainly left smiling.

The spellbinding Dvihīna closes the evening with pure dance. Four performers move with infinite grace in flowing costumes. Passing time effortlessly, they carry our attention through every delicate gesture and build us slowly to the thrum and rhythm of Kathak’s complex footwork, all to the stunning music of Bernhard Schimpelsberger. Seeking to challenge the traditional gendering of movement within the classical style, Shyam Dattani’s choreography feels quietly revolutionary, drawing together slow carriages of the limbs with frenetic turns and pin sharp unison to create a style that justifies itself immediately; no mean feat when dealing with a classical form. It stands firm in the face of tradition and says ‘this is how it should be.’ I couldn’t agree more.

Sean Moss

When dancemakers reimagine Giselle, they usually focus on the heartbreak behind this Romantic classic, in which a nobleman’s infidelity spurs a peasant girl’s breakdown. In Hebe Salmon’s revision (Giselle, This Time It’s About Me), an allusive theme of betrayal comes through, though it’s not a betrayal of lover here but of body: there’s an unexpected pregnancy in the mix. Salmon’s one-woman take swirls dreamy, gusting solos and tense phone calls, including repeat exchanges with her confused grandmother. Beyond her lace nightgown and quick reference to Albrecht, I can’t say the Giselle connection is expressly visible, especially when a sidebar on NHS bureaucracy comes into play, but the undercurrent of unspooling is gripping in itself. Salmon is a lyrical mover, whether she’s stumbling backwards or moulding herself into silky, liquid shapes.

The movement quality in No Messing leans more towards physical theatre than dance, with blasts of wrestling, sprinting and sloping from creator Ellen Finlay and her brother Patrick. An opening game of tug-of-war, paired with a voiceover explaining the connotations of Irish twins, suggests a certain tension between the siblings, though we also see motifs of reliance and connection as we glimpse traces of their childhood. A hefty chunk is dedicated to a meditation on the school kilts Ellen and her female peers were made to wear. The gendered subtext is interesting, but the sequence feels like it belongs to a different work. I wonder what it would look like on its own, with more space and license to eke out the suggestion of inequality.

A full-bodied probe of gender politics comes in Dvihīna, named after the Sanskrit term for 'devoid of gender'. Shyam Dattani’s offering, performed with three fellow Kathak-trained dancers, is lithe and sinuous, the group cutting an elegant diagonal across the stage, heads tilted and wrists curved just so. Tasked with mostly unison choreography and dressed in the same flowing silks, the gender-diverse cast blurs the lines between the usual masculine/feminine binaries of classical Indian technique. I loved the work’s simmering pace – the climax of whip-fast footwork fizzes like a pot boiling over – and the provocative questions it stirs around gender expression.

Sara Veale