Review: ZfinMalta Dance Ensemble – From home with love – Lilian Baylis Studio

Performance: Thursday 9 and Friday 10 February
Reviewed by Siobhan Murphy - Saturday 11 February 2017

Performance reviewed: 10 February

Malta’s first national dance company started in 2014, with Mavin Khoo, the Malaysian dancer who has collaborated with Akram Khan, Shobana Jeyasingh and Wayne McGregor among many others, as its artistic director. When Valletta becomes European capital of culture next year, it will be one of the flagship projects – this first UK visit offered a peek at its repertoire.

The ensemble piece Home, choreographed by Khoo, presents Jure Gostincar in white underpants, being “born” into a world where he struggles to fit in. The seven other dancers, dressed in black and sporting black clown noses, scamper and chatter like small animals, regarding the newcomer with suspicion and putting him through a vigorous initiation process. They affect a sort of chaotic amorality, like the Minions of Despicable Me renown, squabbling among themselves, showing off masculine rituals and insisting on arcane rules, then mocking the newcomer for not understanding.

Group dances have a loose-limbed energy and an almost hip-hop vitality. Mime gestures are heavily mined, but the physical comedy has a relentlessly dark edge, and things become murkier still when the subject of love is introduced and the dancers split into unsettling, athletic duets of control and resistance. It’s all rather intensely bleak and yet frustratingly opaque, the strange practices of the community we are plunged into deliberately indecipherable. At almost an hour, the piece feels protracted beyond what is comfortable – the final release, when black noses are discarded and everyone sambas, is the most enjoyable bit, but over before you know it.

Kick the Bucket is a duet created by the former NDT dancer Iván Pérez (the choreographer behind the Balletboyz piece Young Men), danced by Khoo and Gabin Corredor. There is a recognisable muscular collision of bodies here: the dancers’ arcing limbs pass over and around each other; sequences of complicated holds unfurl across the stage; they use each other’s axis to fluidly propel the next move; and the height discrepancy between the two is cleverly absorbed into the choreography.

Khoo’s monologue at the start, which talks about how we use words to “cover up mystery with a label” and only see a “surface layer of reality that is less than the tip of an iceberg” is not entirely helpful. What emerges, rather, from this piece is a portrait of dependency, with all the strengths and weaknesses that implies. As one dancer fades and falls away from the duet, the other tries to revivify them, pushing, pulling, at one moment angry, in the next consoling. At times, they are like a parent and child, or a pair of lovers, or best friends who can’t be apart. Pérez reaches for extreme emotions – and says he is aiming for something more positive than the title implies. And Khoo and Corredor, as they grapple with each other and fight against losing their partner, do, slowly, seem to derive strength from letting go.

Siobhan Murphy is a freelance writer and editor, who also contributes to Dancetabs and Time Out. Find her on Twitter @blacktigerlily

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