Take it to the limit  

Contemporary dance is more accessible than first meets the eye. It will challenge, exhilarate and excite, as LESLEY FINLAY found out…

Physical, powerful and stylised – contemporary dance is not everyone’s cup of tea but to lovers of the genre, it is a compelling art form that stretches the dancer’s body to the very limit. In fact, these skills are reminiscent of those required by the increasingly ubiquitous street dancers, the other new child of the 20th century – both forms are exciting and shows off the physical power of the human body.

In fact, this connection between the two dance styles has been made by the dance company Freshness, who create work that mixes contemporary dance and hip-hop styles. With a professional dance background but a firm focus on funk and street dance, the company has created a new and accessible form of movement.

Contemporary dance takes modern dance further – both forms concentrate on a philosophy, rather than formal movements, which express an emotional and personal experience. The genre is becoming more accessible.

Notable exponents include the wonderful Michael Clark, whose company produces colourful and challenging pieces, using music from David Bowie, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, with whom he worked closely in the 1970s. Clark took up Scottish dancing when he was four and joined the Royal Ballet School in 1975. His work now includes collaborations with bands, fashion designers and artists – reminiscent of the Ballets Russes, who also shocked and challenged their audiences in the early 19th century.  Ink Pellet’s Beth Evans went to see his recent tour of Come, Been and Gone at Sheffield Lyceum Theatre. She said: ‘This was a true dancer’s show, and the audience reflected this with the majority made up of devotees of modern dance. This was truly innovative but hard to appreciate for its visual quality without an understanding of the complexities of the choreography and the inspiration behind the movement.’

One of the many centres of excellence of contemporary dance is the Laban centre in South London. As well as being a renowned dance school, it offers a full theatre programme, as well as workshops and summer schools. This summer, the theatre hosts an eclectic programme of dance, including the Andalusian company Mi Tierra Flamenca, which presents Unearthed (July 13 & 14),  an authentically powerful journey to the heart and soul of flamenco.

There is also new work from acclaimed dancer and choreographer Zoi Dimitriou, who won the prestigious Bonnie Bird Choreography Fund Award last year. In The Process of… (19 July). Dimitriou, who graduated from the Greek State School of Dance, has won rave reviews of her beautifully crafted duet between a man and a woman – using sixty wooden hula-hoops – which has been on tour across the country.  Laban also opens its doors for its young dance artists’ showcase – a presentation of fresh new work in their end of year performances, including the revelatory Laban Degree Show 2010 (June 26 & 29).

Contemporary dance is also about pushing the boundaries, mixing forms, styles and music  – if you can, seek out the marvellous Deborah Colker’s Companhia de Dança, who have been touring the country with the thought-provoking Cruel. Brazil-born Colker creates works that are diverse and challenging, but they are clearly accessible.

Beth saw the performance at Sheffield. She said: ‘I love dance but my husband is less than keen so it was with some trepidation, and heavy threats that I got him to accompany me. However I needn’t have worried. Cruel was stunning.

‘The slow start as the dancers prepared for their date gave an excellent starting point to the journey through the cruelty of love from the furious passion of first love and then to rejection.

‘The costumes were gorgeous and the flexible style of bodice and skirt allowed fluid movement between the different styles of dance, from lyrical ballet to the intricate movements of the Argentine tango, seamlessly joined. The athleticism of the dancers drew praise even from my husband!  The show buzzed with energy and excitement and we left dazzled with the visual feast we
had seen.’

Useful contacts
The Deborah Colker Dance Company: www.ciadeborahcolker.com.br
Michael Clark Company: www.michaelclarkcompany.com
The Barbican: www.barbican.org.uk
For more information about the Laban summer programme and to book tickets please see www.laban.org