Canadian born and Bristol based, the choreographer Laïla Diallo presents three of her key works for an evening at the Arnolfini as part of the venue’s dance season.
Taking its inspiration from Borges’ The Book of Imaginary Beings, the evening opens with the introduction of Theo Clinkard in a solo performance of At-Any-Moment-Something-Else (2010). Stood atop a piano stool, hidden behind a mist of green-lit smoke, the back of this figure greets the audience with a stony silence as they enter the auditorium. What unfolds is an evolving dream-like journey of frustration and humor. Echoing its source text, the piece’s central figure discovers himself through interaction, assimilation and mimicry. The scale of space unravels before us, and the very convention of a body present is challenged with a sense of delightful play; one moment an astroturfed world is realised in miniature, juxtaposed with a figure alone in an empty space who interacts surreally with the simplest of signifiers ranging from a flute to a crushed piece of tissue. Momentarily this world, and the kinetic energy of its inhabitant, is punctuated by a point of despair that feels dangerously close to destroying everything that has come before, yet we are instantly swept up once again by the outstanding performance of Clinkard living in perfect unison with the sound design of Phil King. The work reaches its climatic ending par-excellence as the landscape before us is symbolically dragged from our eyes.
The second solo work of the evening is by the choreographer herself. Imprint(2009), feels a lot rougher in structure. A work of conflict and resonance, the mechanical becomes embodied in the organic being; then, through repetition, a sense of argument between these animalistic and mechinised forms takes shape. At times as brilliant in the questions it raises, as those it muddles, it feels confused and more like we are watching something that almost seems too private to share.
Between the Shingle and the Dune (2005) closes the bill and sees the return of Clinkard to the stage alongside Diallo. Feeling almost Bausch-like at times in its use of ordinary gestures repeated, the work paints a beautiful sense of togetherness between two figures across a field of time, space and most vitally the void of separation. Clinkard, as before, is a joy to watch and in this work Diallo resonates with his body in an inseparable manner: the harmonious synchronicity of a couple joined through their trials together and parted, highlighted perfectly in the way the lighting design splits the space – though it is the lighting that lets the work down at the start, as the piece struggles through two blackouts that jar with the narrative and seem incongruous with the flow one expects to develop in such a short piece. That said, the lighting transitions evolve as the performance develops and maybe this was merely a misjudged commentary in lighting design on the growth of the relationship before us. By the end there is a real sense of beauty on stage in all aspects of performance and design as the figures morph into ritual bird-like displays of passion, concluding so peacefully that one could imagine two flamingoes mated for eternity as the sun sets on their days.