Vuong 10, at Rich Mix


A review of Nina Kov’s dance work, set to music by Leafcutter John.

What happens when you touch? We don't normally think about the process which mediates between contact of skin and feeling in the brain. It's automatic, just one of the many constant modes of engagement with the surrounding world which we allow to perform in the background whilst we concentrate on just being ourselves.

And what if that touch is with another person? A human touch rather than one we may make with an object or surface. What are the consequences then? Is the energy which moves around our body, to the brain and back, any different? Undoubtedly so, as it is folded with fear, passion, intimacy and psyche. It is this moment of human touch which is explored in new collaborative dance and musical work Vuong 10, created by Catarina Carvalho and Nina Kov with guest Michael John Harper.

Set in a near future where we have moved beyond the practice or need of human contact, we find two dancers (Maren Fidje Bjørneseth and Kenny Wing Tao Ho) slowly rediscover the lost art of touchover the course of an intriguing hour. The whole piece feels like it is broken into stages, choreographed chapters, which seem to record the imagined steps of what it would take to relearn the physicality, sensuality and psychology of proximity.

And so we start with childlike behaviour. Tentative contact between the two protagonists as they discover and interrogate the prod of one another. The end of the finger as catalyst for an emerging bodily response. Playful kitten games, bodies flailing together and apart as the live music loses and rediscovers a rhythm.

This music clambers out of this disorder and confusion in the next section to find a more pronounced energy, parallel to the excitement and passion between the dancers as they begin to negotiate pleasure where they previously only found novelty. But it remains a non-sexual energy – while there is a sense of Adam and Eve within this unfolding relationship, and despite the sensuality suggested by the minimal gauze coverings offered by Bella Gonshorovitz's costumes as they begin to cling to the perspiring flesh of the dancers, it all seems the play of innocence rather than one destined for sin.

Max Baillie's viola playing reverberates deeply within Leafcutter John's electronics as if it was an energy meandering around the somatosensory system, turning an initial trigger into an overwhelming totality. Throughout the work music by Baillie and John acts as a third character to the two moving on stage; a sonic Greek chorus, both commenting on the action as well as feeding into it. Though as they sit at the side of the stage, closely observing and always in view, there is precious little interaction between the moving and sound elements of the work – aside, that is, from a clear concentration on faces to interlace the two parts smoothly.

Except for one moment, when towards the end of the third chapter where Leafcutter John ventures from his seat and into the performance space, extending a boom and microphone over entwined bodies coupling together after a prolonged panic and aggression between the two. The trembling sounds picked up from the voyeuristic mic are intimate and direct, and John then proceeds to push them through his electronics to create the deepest, most reverberating intimate sound canvas. A pin dropping sound eternally bouncing through a cathedral.

And so we go on through the following chapters of this short story. Next, a solo dance by Wing Tao Ho. A sense of vulnerability as he seems to realise the power he has over another's feelings, but how in this same equation it means his are equally at the whim of the other. A reconnection between the two dancers follows before a further stage of quivering and shivering, tactile acceptance of one-ness, between action and reaction, one and the other, internal and external. And onwards through a solo dance by Fidge Bjørneseth as we head into the closing section of this tale of discovery. Where, after all the nervousness, fear and exploration of the rediscoveredtouchboth are now accepting and in control, synchronous and settled.

Beyond the fluidity of both the dancers there is a huge performativity within the musicianship of Baillie and John which constantly draws the eye of the audience away from the dance and towards their craft. I'd have liked if somehow this sense of touch between musician and instrument could have been given the same visual prominence as that of the choreographed movement. Through video projection or use of lighting to give occasional attention to the musicians perhaps the relationship between sound and dance, musician and dancer, could have been further explored. That one moment when Leafcutter John dared to leave his space and enter the other to steal sound samples was exciting, and I did long for a bit more of this transgression and breaking of the order between the two elements of the work.

The lighting by Karl Oskar Sørdall should be mentioned. Simple, but hugely effective in cutting the space sharply into light and shade, pulling attention from the whole space to a detail or ruminating upon the relationship between the dancers as they move. And those dancers are compelling throughout, especially Wing Tao Ho with hair slowly unravelling over the duration as if an accidental metaphor for the release of initial fear at the idea of touchat the very start.

Only an hour long, but an intense hour where those watching genuinely feel as it seems the dancers are. A symbiosis not just between the two dancers, but also between the movement with sound and light. Carvalho, Kov and John Harper have created an intriguing experience, trembling and quivering.