The QT

Friday 19 July 2024

Review: Past & Future, Eliot Smith Dance

ESD is touring the region with its summer programme. David Whetstone saw it at the company’s Dance City base
Duet danced by Rowan Parker and Yamit Salazar. Credit: Fabrice Herrault.

Eliot Smith Dance (ESD) is on the road with a programme that illustrates what the company is all about and under a title that does likewise.

The past is represented by the first of the programme’s contrasting works, a revival of Duet, a 1964 creation by American choreographer Paul Taylor.

It’s not the first work that springs to screen when you Google his legacy but it encapsulates his attention to detail and ability to paint memorable pictures through dance.

Eliot and his dancers, Yamit Salazar and Rowan Parker, flew to New York earlier this year after a successful Crowdfunder campaign to learn from the experts at Paul Taylor Dance Company, not least Carolyn Adams who performed the work in the 1960s.

Adams has called Duet “a treasure”.

To be that it doesn’t have to be enormous. Duet lasts seven minutes but it is precise like a visual poem, the two dancers parting and reuniting as in a courtship ritual.

Dancing Paul Taylor’s Duet for ESD are Rowan Parker and Yamit Salazar. Credit: Fabrice Herrault.

The music by Haydn and the skin-tight costumes – originals, these, in hand-painted pastel shades – contribute to its gem-like perfection.

Everywhere nowadays, particularly at sporting events, competitors use their hands to make a heart sign for supporters. In uneasy times, loving gestures, however glib, shouldn’t be sniffed at.

There’s nothing glib about Duet, its fluidity the outcome in this case of a trip across the Atlantic and months of practice on top of a lifetime’s dedication to the artform.

But it’s another physical expression of love with the dancers using their whole bodies to create that heart silhouette.

It’s actually beautiful. The Dance City audience seemed to hold its breath until the final note.

Yamit and Rowan may have been doing likewise but I suspect not. This was a masterclass in strength and control, a fine homage to its creator who died in 2018.

Second up after a short break came Human, revived by ESD after a well-received recent tour.

Choreographed by Eliot, but with much input from the dancer, it’s an explosive solo portrayal of human evolution, from early stirrings of primeval consciousness to modern life in thrall to technology.

It’s a longer work but still packs a lot in, beginning with Yamit on some sort of primordial plinth and with a black costume leaving his back exposed.

As Adam Johnson’s thunderous soundtrack chirruped and grunted like a pumped up Attenborough documentary, I marvelled at the physicality of the performance.

Yamit has more dexterity in his shoulder blades than I have in my fingers but it takes a dancer of his calibre to do justice to Human’s raw power.

Yamit Salazar in HUMAN from Eliot Smith Dance

This piece I took to represent the future… but for ESD, a company which receives no regular funding, the future is as fraught as ever.

An anonymous American benefactor contributed to this latest tour.

There’s no doubting the company’s contribution to the region’s artistic landscape, of which it has been part for over a decade.

Eliot works in schools and is committed to places a young Billy Elliot might recognise where the default response to dance has traditionally been less than keen.

Everywhere he finds an audience and the company’s band of staunch supporters is impressive.

All this was acknowledged at Dance City where luminaries in attendance  included Richard Chen See, of Paul Taylor Dance Company, who revealed at the post-performance Q&A that he once attended ballet classes in Whitley Bay.

Eliot Smith Dance’s Past & Future is now on tour

He recalled Paul Taylor telling his dancers that they were doing vital work providing metaphors, not telling people what to think but inviting interpretation and stirring emotion.

Eliot will have taken heart from that but a more solid financial foundation would remove uncertainty and would have enabled the programming of a third piece to extend this rather brief programme.

In the immediate future, Eliot is reviving his audience-pleasing Pitman for the ESD autumn season.

The popular piece inspired by coalmining will mark the 90th anniversary of the pitmen painters whose work is displayed at Woodhorn Museum in Ashington where ESD regularly rehearses.

The Past & Future tour, meanwhile, visits the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, on June 26 and Woodhorn Museum on June 29. For the full itinerary go to the Eliot Smith Dance website.


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