Epilogues (James Cousins Company) – Review – Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds
By Eve Luddington, May 2019
The James Cousins Company, set up in 2014 and now on its fourth UK tour, makes a bold statement in its programme notes to Epilogues:- ‘We believe dance goes deeper to a place words cannot. It has the power to open our eyes to new ways of thinking. The energy to move us and bring us together. The possibility to transport us to the edge of our imaginations.’
‘That’s exactly what I believe!’ enthused the friend who accompanied me to the show. She’s a dancer with an excellent understanding of movement language. I’m more comfortable with words. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the three works of the evening, all duets, all exploring the complexities of close relationships.
‘Within Her Eyes’, James Cousins’ signature piece, knocked us both for six. It starts with a narrow spotlight on Chihiro Kawasaki’s upper body. She’s in a flesh-coloured costume, impossibly standing in mid-air. As the lighting changes, it’s apparent that she’s supported (by Rhys Dennis). And so she is for the entire 17-minute dance; her feet never touch the ground. Necessarily, James Cousins’ choreography has to be imaginative when one dancer is so fully reliant on another. My knowledgeable companion said it was unique, without a single clichéd movement.
The performers’ technique, control and trust in one another are superb, Dennis’s strength astonishing, but these are ‘givens’; we weren’t consciously aware of them while we watched. I was completely engrossed in the dance, and the music (piano, strings and digital) fitted the piece like a glove.
“Silence and stillness”
Kawasaki is ethereal: she seems to sail, to float, to fly – almost in slow motion. Sometimes she curls into herself, womblike, sometimes around her partner’s darkly costumed body. Initially, she seems totally unaware of Dennis’s support. He seems entirely an enabler; his thighs, back, shoulders her launchpad. Then they make eye contact and their relationship immediately acquires tenderness and mutuality. The dance becomes about a deep connection between two human beings. Their flowing unhurried fluidity was soothing. In a briefly hectic section, Kawasaki seems to feel trapped, stretching away and reaching out from Dennis but their gentle touch returns until the surprising final moments. After a black-out, Kawasaki again appears mid-air in a spotlight – and we see Dennis walking away from her. My friend and I both found Within Her Eyes profoundly moving. It’s an exquisite piece, wonderfully performed.
‘In Between Us Is Me’ and ‘The Secret of Having It All’, also choreographed by James Cousins, are new, interlinking works. Neither of them had the visceral impact of the first piece. ‘In Between Us Is Me’ begins with a loud, continuous and unnerving sound which might have been designed in the ‘Dr Who’ radiophonic workshop. Two men (Rhys Dennis and Georges Hann) stand opposite each other, sizing each other up. They move slowly and with intensity in a mood of confrontation, defensiveness. Taunting and play-fighting turn into wrestling. Then, with a dramatic lighting change, there is silence and stillness. Dennis appears alone in a rectangle of light, distraught and disturbed, thrashing about in torment. When Hann appears again, he seems to offer support, even the possibility of love – but the duet ends with the relationship unresolved.
‘The Secret of Having It All’ is a fast and furious, technically demanding female duet with more traditional contemporary dance steps and a sound track so penetrating that my seat vibrated at one point. Jemima Brown and George Frampton, in skimpy fawn costumes, give the impression they’re trying to outperform each other in the high energy stakes. Who can jump higher? Who can bend further, tap their stockinged feet faster? It’s relentless.
The women inhabit the same space, and perform similar steps but scarcely acknowledge one another until the dance finishes and two bundles drop from above. Then, we have explanatory words on the sound track: ‘We’re going to have to get better at this.’ Suddenly, we realise that this has been a gruelling dance rehearsal. ‘I just want to put on a disguise,’ says the sound track. The women open the bundles to find shiny dark suits which they put on – their disguise.
Briefly, the male and female duets appear together. The men are now connecting physically with some tenderness. The women are relating to one another too by helping each other to put on more and more layers – a refreshing change from the idea of developing a relationship by stripping off.
It’s only after the men have taken their bow that ‘The Secret of Having It All’ concludes. Brown and Frampton reappear in wigs, hats and trouser suits to perform, with relish, a light-hearted tap routine. This, perhaps, is the piece for which they were ‘rehearsing’ so strenuously. It certainly shows the versatility of the dancers and is a fun way to end the show.
After Epilogues, my companion and I left the theatre with mixed feelings. For my friend, the sound and lighting overpowered and diminished the last two dances. She felt too, that the men’s technical skills were underused in their duet. I was less concerned about technique but spent so much time trying to make meaning of those pieces that I couldn’t fully engage with them. The upshot was, we both found ‘In Between Us Is Me’ and ‘The Secret of Having It All’ frustrating. Neverthless, it was an evening well spent for the beautiful experience that was ‘Within Her Eyes’. It reveals the truth of James Cousins’ statement in the programme notes.