Ex-stuntman Jan Patzke and ex-gymnast Olivia Quale, who formed Joli Vyann almost five years ago, have said that they enjoy ‘the subtleties and sophistication of lighting and intimate and focused environment’ that indoor spaces provide. But the gloom in the Hippodrome‘s dedicated dance studio, both before and after Thursday night’s performance, meant that I missed the programme note explaining how Quayle had been replaced by Maélie Palomo – a second year student at the National Center of Circus Arts.
(Ed’s note… A spokesperson from DanceXchange later explained Olivia Quale had hurt her wrist. Maélie Palomo, who had been training alongside Quale, was elected to stand in for the Birmingham performances.)
The intimacy of The Patrick Centre proved a harsh spotlight on the young understudy, as she struggled at times to execute choreographer Jonathan Lunn’s vision as the audience is asked ‘When and how do we separate ourselves from the virtual chaos surrounding us?’ The technological revolution has changed fundamental parts of our lives, how we communicate and how we think; understanding its impact has become a hot topic across the arts.
Jonathan Lunn and Joli Vyann, working together for the first time, sought to use their fusion of dance and circus to explore the undeniable impact of technological temptations and terrors. Just two chairs and a table sat on the stage of this stripped back spectacle; the only props were mobile phones and laptops, whilst Patzke and Palomo wore nondescript costumes. Meditative chanting accompanied a brilliantly understated opening sequence which encapsulated a familiar scene: people present in each other’s company but transfixed with technology. However the challenging choreography caused the clearly shaking pair to stumble, and, in the audience, a sense of unease settled.
The scenes progressed with unrelenting acrobatics which held a mirror to modern life in a more deliberately unsettling manner. Drawing strength from a full auditorium, the duo demonstrated impressive physicality in their movement. The table and chairs were used extensively, both clunkily and cleverly, to represent communicative barriers. We moved through moments that resonated and amused: the couple moving like boxers, circling each other, tangling and twisting whilst glued to their smart devices. The soundtrack provided by Dougie Evans, co-Artistic Director of Lila Dance, featured snippets of speech from all walks of society, reinforcing the message that technology is connecting us globally but distancing us intimately.
The storytelling, however, did waver. A brief exploration of cyber bullying and suicide seemed perfunctory and slightly puzzling. The choreography was clever, showcasing impressive gymnastic skills, but like the story it lacked fluidity. Some of the elaborate acrobatics felt forced; if you’ll excuse the pun, the blend of circus with dance felt imbalanced. Imbalance carried a strong, if simple, message but was ultimately frustrating; the best moments, for a purist, came when technology and acrobatic ambition were abandoned. Too infrequently, the couple found pleasantly breath-taking synergy in slick dance sequences.
Patzke and Quayle have been performing their mix of dance, circus skills and stunts as Joli Vyann for half a decade. Palomo perhaps suffered for being a stand in; she is undoubtedly talented and was ultimately impressive, but the couple’s unfamiliarity did detract from the polish of the performance.
Imbalance is only Joli Vyann’s second indoor show and demonstrates the not-fully-realised ambition of this unique style. The acrobatics were breath-taking, but Imbalance’s impact suffered for a focus on fantastic feats.
For more on Imbalance, visit www.joli-vyann.com/dance-and-theatre-company-performances/imbalance
For more from Joli Vyann, visit www.joli-vyann.com
For more from DanceXchange, including full event listing and online ticket sales, visit www.dancexchange.org.uk