Contemporary dance is becoming very relatable and news-influenced. So instead of work about feelings – although we got that in spades in Helen Hall’s affectng Memory Box about her late mother which premiered at The Crescent Arts Centre as part of the Belfast Festival at the weekend – we get politics, references to world affairs. Suzannah McCreight’s piece which came second in this first, pretty impressive outing from new group Green Light Dance Company is titled Allies. She’d been inspired, she said in one of two not entirely necessary explanatory talks pre-dances, by the war in Ukraine which had led her to think about how ordinary citizens took up arms to defend their country and fought and supported each other ‘shoulder to shoulder in increasingly terrible circumstances. In this at times emotional dance for three, we got a real sense of mutual support. Especially in a long passage involving excellent dancer Rosie Mullin and her colleague Sean O’Neill. She nuzzled into his back as he made moves that suggested struggle, trying to map his own territory but dancing to the tune of war. Her gentleness seemed to comfort and the message was clear.
Elsewhere, we got what might have been the loss of a comrade, Adam Ashford, who did a solo before semi-collapsing in the alien woods looked scared as well he might. The dance moves involved the contemporary collapse counterpointed by the realignment of the three protagonists as ever, shoulder to shoulder in a brave, determined line. This work could be extended, one feels, maybe go even darker but it has things to say.
As does Hall’s work, a tribute to her mother who died recently. The memory box is an idea with universal pull, recognising how we recall those who have gone before. Helen Hall’s tribute to her mother was naturally equally emotive. The strings of memory, like her mum’s hair she referred to as so soft, comforting, were centre stage in a pretty, clever curtain of swishing material. The choreographer deployed this well, with the bereaved daughter reaching out, touching the material, setting it moving and bringing it back to life. Memory is often connected with smell and taste – see Proust – but here it was nearly all about touch, partly as Ms Hall is visually impaired so this is a super key sense for her.
The spoken narrative soundtrack recalled the woman, slightly sanctified because that’s what you do in the early stages of grief. Hall also referred to touching and wearing one of her garments, also typical. What worked brilliantly was the way this piece allowed us to recall our mothers. Mine, Joan, was a Reuters journalist at one point, great writer, acerbic, didn’t suffer fools but mothered more than her children and loved Chopin and truffles.