A naked stage contained within concrete and ancient brick walls, just a white stage cloth. No lighting, just one simple overhead lamp that never changes. The only concession to décor is the half-open three-metre-high double-doors on the back wall and the wooden panel that usually covers it resting at the side. A man and a woman sit on stage as the audience enters, waiting. They each wear a black T-shirt and black trousers. This was minimal presentation; the dance was the only thing to see, there were no distractions, there was nowhere else to look. From inside the dark space, beyond the door, comes the only sound, a slightly muted selection of solo piano music by Beethoven and Schubert.
The two dancers, Aimee Lagrange and Jussi Nousiainen, start their courtship. Sometimes in unison, sometimes performing classical moves, sometimes almost jiving. Always holding hands, always touching in a cat’s cradle of twisting turns. Sometimes caressing, sometimes struggling for separation, it is a relationship laid bare that eventually became almost a test of will, a test of strength. But we had seen nothing yet.
This is the second Stephen Shropshire piece I have seen in as many weeks. His About Miss Julie in the Holland Dance Festival was masterpiece enough but We Are Nowhere Else But Here topped it for energy, originality and raw emotion. And it disturbed.
After a very short pause the action continued, the distant piano music still playing but the mood had changed. She stood at the back of the stage, waiting. He approached and they again became entwined until she had lifted him off the ground and proceeded to slowly carry him downstage. This wasn’t a simple piggy-back or a fireman’s lift with all the weight on the shoulders. She was holding him slung across her front like a recalcitrant corpse in a sagging pietà.
She took him as far as she could until, too heavy, he slid to the floor. She retreated to the back wall, panting. He took off his T-shirt and dropped it to mark the spot – she had carried him about six metres. The whole process was repeated; this time she was struggling, managing only four metres. He took off his trousers and marked the spot. She stood at the back sweating, breathless and exhausted, the soft piano music a comforting counter-point to the agonies on stage. For a third time she picked him up and started the slow shaky trek forward. This was choreography in the extreme, unrelenting and painful to watch. Gasping, almost screaming and clearly drained, she managed a Herculean five metres. This was for real, no acting involved.
After only a few seconds’ rest the dance continued, now more conciliatory, until eventually they reach their original starting position. She then danced alone while he watched from the door. He closes the door, the music stops and distant muffled applause is heard. The end.
If you get the chance to see Stephen Shropshire’s We Are Nowhere Else But Here I strongly recommend that you do, but be prepared to be disturbed, shocked even. Brilliant. Disturbing, but brilliant. Michael Hasted 25th February 2018
Photo by and © Stephen Shropshire