Reviewed by Michael Brown
Review Date: 10/11/14

Fresh Northeast Scratch Night

from FRESH North East at The Late Shows

4th November 2014 @ Dance City, Newcastle

To a beautiful waltz composed by Inigo Ugarteburu, two would-be lovers perform a piece centred on a gym rope, instantly proving three isn’t necessarily a crowd. Choreographers and performers Newton’s Ladder have an interest in ‘liberating the aerialist on the ground and the dancer in the air’. This brief extract from a work in progress takes the breath away. The movement and agility is impressive, on and off the rope, but it’s an interwoven story balanced between love and tragedy that truly captures the imagination. There’s a tension throughout, the pair in a bubble of their own that an audience has somehow stumbled into. It’s quite an opening to Fresh Northeast’s final event of the year.

Newcastle’s Dance City has been developing and promoting the medium for two decades now, and Fresh is in its fourth year. Engineered and delivered by Hannah Marshall and Rachel Birch, this year alone has shared work from 21 artists across the country. In a world where simply getting an idea heard is an achievement in itself, the promotion of new work is vital to the continual evolvement of the form.

In the second piece, a silent film aura adds real weight to Constance Humphries’ Butoh-based performance. As she explained in the after-show discussion, the art forms of dance and film are inseparable in her interpretation of the style. Of Japanese origin, Butoh is very much open to personal definition, with an emphasis on self-expression. Against a self-composed and faintly-frightening piano refrain, Humphries delivered a snippet of a two-hour work, an exercise in subtlety and restraint. It’s an intriguing insight into a varied style, the creeping shape on the floor morphing from birds of paradise to long lost souls, in an exploration of attention and self-validation.

Red Tracks blended hip-hop, breakbeats and street dance to bring the story of Little Red Riding Hood up to date. A piece created by Holly Irving and Jackson Watson, it began with a stalking in a city setting and explored the relationship that followed, using a simple prop in the form of a red suitcase. With a mixture of fear, humour and combat squeezed into a tiny space, the plot made for a brilliantly original piece. The music of Bonobo and Badbadnotgood is an ideal backdrop to the contemporary performance, and whilst a work in its infancy, the central idea has huge commercial potential.

Pacola’s Afrish Vibe is a thing of immense joy, achieving a feeling of spontaneity in a room full of smiles. Creators Nicola Sana McCarthy and Patrick Ziza mix traditional African dance with street moves, inspiring such a high that their ten minute slice of energy must surely blossom into a full-length performance. The desire to join in is strong, and Afrish Vibe has a freshness that could capture future imaginations in any setting. It’s theatrical enough for the theatre, yet so engaging it could turn up unannounced in city centres and swell a watching crowd in seconds.

Given their experimental nature, Scratch Nights are always worthwhile, often interesting but rarely cause for celebration. This evening throws such reservations aside. These four, hugely disparate pieces should all go on to make their mark in the dance world, and ensured Fresh Northeast’s final outing of 2014 was a triumph. If Arts Council funding is not repeated for 2015, theatre and dance in the region will be greatly missing out.