|Estela Merlos in Balikbayan|
Photo: Arnau Stephenson
What comes across most strongly during Avatâra Ayuso’s quadruple bill is the choreographer’s attention to detail. There is not a moment where movement feels haphazard or time-filling; every step is carefully planned, has a clear dynamic and contributes to Ayuso’s wider intention for each work. Whilst its meaning isn’t always clear, choreography is undoubtedly captivating.
Balikbayan, a solo for former Rambert dancer Estela Merlos, opens the evening. Inspired by the migration experiences of Filipino women, Merlos commences upside down with a bright yellow skirt hiding her upper body as she flexes her feet and legs. Standing up, the dancer’s movements become increasingly frantic as a voiceover repeats foreign words. With a watery white paste on her hands, Merlos then grabs sections of skin, smearing the paste until she is covered in a blotchy mess that reflects her inner feelings of disorientation and alienation. The lights go down as Merlos stands in a warrior-like wide knee bend, roughly slapping her thighs as if preparing for battle.
Tokyo Tokyo, a dance film starring and directed by Ayuso, breaks the tension created in Balikbayan. Only a few minutes long, it’s filled with surprises as three dancers in kimonos swing from industrial railings and pass around a mysterious wooden box. What stands out in particular is the vivid movement and colour of the dancers against the muted grey background of the title city.
A duet for Blair Tookey and Julie Ann Minaai, OneSquareMeter, explores the claustrophobia of living in overcrowded London. In a square pool of light, the dancers start standing and staring expressionlessly into the audience. Their first movements are minute vibrations which are gradually transformed into full-bodied swoops and stretches. As choreography develops, dancers travel between different wells of light around the stage, visibly relaxing, straightening their hair and massaging tight joints in the darkness. But each time they return to the linear confines of a lit square, they become spirited and animalistic again – both fighting for space and superiority but also seeking comfort and support from each other.
Provisional Landscapes (which also gives its name to the bill as a whole) completes the evening. To a looping eight bar section of music by Antonio Vivaldi, five masked dancers walk and roll around in varying patterns, repeatedly pausing as if suddenly frozen in time. Fluid solos, duets and group numbers are stilted by a sudden and invisible need to stop, with movements becoming increasingly aggravated as the score remains unrelenting.
As a first full-length evening of Ayuso’s choreography, Provisional Landscapes is exceptionally promising. The bill’s overall theme – which centres around travel and the frustration of human experience, whether staying in the same place or migrating – is strongly present and draws works together.
At times it’s hard to understand the emotional intention of Ayuso’s choreography, but there’s no doubt a meaning is present in her beautifully crafted steps. Ayuso’s work is more well-considered, more dynamic and more engaging than many contemporary dance creators, and she deserves more opportunities to shine.