Hanging In There/Touching Distance

Politics and the workplace provide unequal inspiration at the Belfast Festival

When you think about it, an incredible number of dance and movement-related references were used in media reporting of events leading up to the Good Friday Agreement and the subsequent machinations of the peace process.

Politicians have been observed as being ‘in step’ or ‘out of step’. There has been talk of ‘moving on’, of ‘not putting a foot wrong’ or ‘putting his (or her) foot in it’. There has been speculation about ‘body language’ and damage to ‘the body politic’, the sensation of having ‘the hand of history on our shoulder’ and ‘working in tandem’. Some have chosen to ‘hold hands across the sectarian divide’, or conversely ‘to withdraw the hand of friendship’. And so on and so forth.

Belfast man Nick Bryson has clearly been struck by the absurdity and repetition of all this political double-speak, as well as by the plethora of clichés that people in the north have been forced to contend with over the years. He has transferred this frustration into his art, translating familiar catch-words and soundbites into a witty dance piece that, in common with other notable pieces on the dance programme of this year’s Belfast Festival, employs the spoken word as an integral part of the performance.

Time was when speech/text was an absolute no-no in the dance world. Now there is more and more crossover work emerging, to the extent that the high profile London-based company DV8 - which brought the stunning To Be Straight With You to the festival – has changed its name to include the words ‘physical theatre'.

Legitimate Bodies Dance Company, whose home is in Birr, County Offaly, has no qualms about extensive use of the voice. Indeed, in Bryson’s cleverly choreographed and scripted piece, Hanging In There, the two work effectively together. One can laugh as easily at the mealy mouthings of the besuited dancers (Bryson and Damian Punch) as wonder at the mounting complexity of their physical movements.

Interestingly, however, dance comes out on top, guiding the audience through the tangled process. Our dancers take three steps forward, two steps back (or vice versa) before propping each other up in a series of complicated u-turns and back bends. They laugh, josh, frown and squabble, striding ahead purposefully before retreating in tiny, hesitant steps. They confront each other face to face, then turn away, unable to make eye contact.

The Chuckle Brothers’ hands across the water act quickly gives way to an altogether less harmonious two-step, which brings us bang up to date. It’s funny, original, politically perceptive – and at 20 minutes, well judged.

In contrast, Touching Distance is considerably longer and more abstract – abstruse even. The theme is equally resonant for our time, focusing on the dilemmas and crises experienced by women who choose, or are compelled, to go out to work during the recession.

Sharp business suits and stiletto heels, spread sheets and depressing statistics are invoked in the robotic movements and expressionless faces of the dancers. It’s not a pretty picture. Slowly, however, the three women shed their outer shells to expose their inner selves, where the true spirit of their femininity lurks.

Cristina Goletti is an impressive long-limbed presence, dominating every section, especially the perceptively observed yoga class, where she lies as still as a fallen leaf while her colleagues (Isabella Oberlander and Rohanna Halls) shift and fidget and anxiously examine their bodies. And her unsteady, desperate tilt at the elusive glass ceiling is a moving but long overdue finale to an uneven, disappointingly presented piece.

Jane Coyle