This is what Dance Umbrella’s about: top quality, contemporary dance in unexpected places. It’s such a shame Riverside hadn’t sold out Studio 2 last night. We thought this UK premiere would be good and we were so right. It doesn’t have a story. It doesn’t really mean anything – choreographer, Ohad Naharin apparently just like the sound of the Hebrew word Mamootot (mammoth) – but the hour long piece for 9 dancers, all clad in rough, pastel, cut off romper suits and daubed in white make up to make them look mannequin-esque otherworldly under the bright glare of full studio lights, is quite simply awesome in the true sense of the word.
The superb dancers operate as a drilled squad yet express their individuality through different bodies, atmospheric or crazy solos and penetratingly expressive gazes. The movement ranges across the spectrum from cartoony parody to louche classical and an unconstrained contemporary repertoire, straying at times into the extreme isolations of robotics or an extravagant kind of all body sign language. Although the cast are almost dehumanised in their costume, the physicality is visceral. One female dancer traverses the performance space on her back, arching and writhing her way like an inverted, homeless snail. One male dancer strips naked to give an intense solo, exposing every sinew of his body. You’re so close to the action, you can hear the dancers breathing, see them sweat and are spellbound by the series of serious exuberance being played out before you.
Naharin switches pace and mood employing an eclectic soundtrack ranging from audio static to full on punk pop – all the records were bought randomly by him in Japan because he liked the sleeves – and expertly creates suspense with long, emotive pauses. If tempted to suggest a theme for the piece, it might be about attempts to communicate. The dancers engage with the audience, at times joining them on ringside seats, examining them intently and even making handshake contact with some. When the dancers themselves come into contact, it’s electric. The female duo who end the piece, dancing perilously close in an intimate ballroom hold, might be holding their breath… or is that us?