Evolutions review: Joyful, reflective and perfect for these times

John Scott’s latest production reflects his own evolution as a dancer

Project, Space Upstairs

★★★★☆

We take our seats, creating a narrow margin on three sides of a transformed theatre space, stripped back to the dark brick walls, six still figures lying in wait on the vast bare stage ready for lift off. As though recognising how recent containment and measuring distance are beginning to recede, choreographer John Scott has given it leading role in Evolutions, his new work reconfiguring the staging of the Space Upstairs at Project and creating an intimate, inclusive atmosphere.

With nods to Darwin and evolutionary theory, we move with his agile and energetic ensemble of six dancers (Alessandra Azevedo, Ashley Chen, Magdalena Hyak, Oran Leong, Favour Odusola, Sarah Ryan) as they create phases of movement intimating our origins, from crouching animals to hunkered hunter-gatherers. Small gestures paint a vivid canvas; the poised stance of the archer ready to release an arrow, a leader pointing ahead as the dancer followers fall in step. Elsewhere they conjure a swarm of bees complete with buzzing sounds, a flock of gliding birds, arms outstretched, winging on the diagonal. In between we see the evolution of social order, the dynamic of a group or tribe, of belonging. If a couple of dancers take time out, we watch them easily reunited with their companions, the dancers’ arms form a braceleted but fingers not touching.

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All these sequences are sublimely designed and executed; the dancers advance and retreat, gather and separate, exploit the space, extending limbs, rolling and flipping and like a murmuration of starlings, each knows their place. Sometimes, they scatter across the stage and then, on a turn, meld into luminously precise lines before suddenly melting away again. In the closing image the dancers lie on the stage, perfectly aligned, an arm on a chest, silently resting like migratory birds.

There are traces of Scott’s own evolution as dancer and choreographer as he celebrates 30 years with his company, Irish Modern Dance Theatre. This ensemble is testament to his sense of diversity, collaboration and of experiment with international dance culture. Along with Eric Wurtz’s lighting and costumes from Justine Doswell, no soundscape would be complete without the voice of a rich tenor (Tom Bogdan complementing Michael Scott’s score) and the dancers’ own voices: yelping, whooping, shouting and laughing – even quietly aloud. Above all, this dance is about human action: joyful, playful, reflective and celebratory, perfect for these times.

Runs until October 30th