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Review: Auricular - Surface Area Dance Theatre at Baltic 39

David Whetstone caught a performance of Auricular which portrays three dancers’ emotions and experiences through movement, film and live music

****

The first surprise comes as we, the audience, file into the room where the performance is to take place.

Rather than being arranged safely in rows, 30 seats are positioned around an oval performance area.

Dancers Nicole Vivien Watson, Molly Hodkinson and Beth Loughran occupy three of them, looking inwards, impassive.

Behind each is a screen showing a filmed version of themselves, similarly seated but a little more animated. Is Beth stifling a giggle? Nicole Vivien Watson, choreographer of this piece and founder of Surface Area Dance Theatre, doesn’t smile either in person or on the monitor.

Reed thin and long-haired, she cuts a figure of tragic beauty.

The soundtrack by :zoviet*france: – the go-to outfit for edgy dance music in the North East – gently pulsates, adding to a sense of mounting expectation.

It’s Nicole who moves first, her hands performing a kind of micro-choreography, wringing and gesturing in a manner reminiscent of British Sign Language, which indeed was a kicking off point for this work exploring communication through facial expressions.

Nicole, I later learn, is on a three-year course at Durham University’s School of Modern Languages and Culture and this is an area of her research.

The hand movements are picked up by the other dancers, who proceed to more expansive chair-based movements before rising to their feet and moving into the oval space.

There they embark on a series of floor movements, echoing each other but not moving in any kind of unified fashion that I can see. The music increases in volume and beat … and then all starts to subside.

The dancers return to their seats and there follows the most pregnant of pauses.

A gadget – a microphone, a transmitter; I’m not good with gadgets – is passed around the oval. I pass it on as quickly as possible.

Breaking the stillness, the dancers – one by one – wheel their monitors onto the floor and whisk them around in a way that will make any parent want to snap: “Watch that flex!” or “Put that back NOW!” But these girls are professionals. They whirl and whisk the monitors, putting them face to face and backing them away, performing an animated routine with inanimate objects not accustomed to fast movement.

The performance comes full circle. The dancers, breathing more heavily, are seated once again, impassive but seemingly more fulfilled, Nicole looking a little less sad.

And that’s it – a strange but beautiful hour-or-so in a world without words.

Auricular, presented by Dance City in association with Baltic, may tour. Look out for it.

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