It has been said that the greatest element of dance is its fleeting nature. It is present in the moment it is perceived, and then gone forever. Unlike music and film, it cannot be reproduced, or experienced in the same way again – the beauty of dance is in its temporary, impermanent nature. Pile Of Bones, the highly anticipated new contemporary dance work by Stephanie Lake Company which was just premiered at Arts House embodied the temporary nature of dance performance with rigidly shifting scenes that saw the mood of the work change entirely from one second to the next. The impermanence of each event and the dramaturgy therein made for a constantly engaging work which never felt as though it was stagnating on a single idea. Each time a conceptual thread was pulled, another was not far behind it. 

Renowned choreographer Stephanie Lake formed Stephanie Lake Company in 2014, and since its inception the company has produced an impressive of array of works, including the utterly transcendent Aorta. Lake has worked with some of the highest regarded choreographic talents in the world including Antony Hamilton, Byron Perry and Anouk Van Dijk. She has also worked with the Victorian Collage for the Arts, and received the Green Room Award for best emerging dancer after she graduated in 2000. At a young age, she has already proved her value as a choreographic talent with a unique flair – Pile of Bones continues that trend.

Pile of Bones was billed as an “exploration of nurture, violence and the intricacies of our closest relationships.” The movement reflected these notions in a startling way, fractured identity playing a key role, and the fleeting nature of intimacy heavily explored. Various scenes saw deep human connection, only for that connection to be ripped away – the performers were equal parts unified, and entirely alone. This reflected a common human crisis – the complications of navigating loneliness and comradeship within our world.

Lake worked with costume designer Harriet Oxley and lighting designer Matthew Adey to create Pile of Bones. The tactical use of minimal set dressing and lighting, with often simplistic costumes, served the work well. Ideas were used to their full effect – the smoke sweeping across the stage as a dancer was draped in plastic which dragged across the floor as she moved created an all encompassing, shadowed enormity. The use of spotlighting served to highlight small muscle movements in the many hands that vibrated like atoms, which clasped their way across a single dancers body. The deceptive technique of having dancers hidden behind other dancers with only small parts of their body becoming visible created a larger than life illusion, in which a single person was either being touched by many limbs, or embodying those many limbs themselves. A particular, brief image was reminiscent of Hindu religious iconography. Items as commonplace and banal as post it notes were used to dramatic effect, a single body covered from head to toe in fluorescent sheets of paper under black light creating a starkly engaging and resplendent visual feast. 

Pile of Bones was characterised by rapid, often abrasive shifts in sound, lighting and movement. Individual events were not dwelled on to excess- this resulted in a densely varied work, that was ever evolving and never bland. The score composed by Robin Fox was an experience in and of itself. Floating between abstract noise, lush ambience, modified found sounds, and at times tribal house music, the score felt constantly new. While initially humourless and drab in presentation, evoking a sense of distress, Pile of Bones progressed to something more colourful and joyous – a special note must be made for the pyjama like costumes that appeared towards the end of the show. Pile of Bones was riveting, visceral and transformative. The enormous talent of all involved cannot be understated, nor can the inviting and reflective experience of the work. Stephanie Lake has proven again why she is one of the most important voices in modern contemporary choreography.

“Featuring four remarkable dancers, Samantha Hines, Jack Ziesing, Harrison Ritchie-Jones and Marlo Benjamin, Pile of Bones examines love, suppression, mutation and the uprising of inner demons and angels. Bodies are encrusted with fluttering armour and caught in sticky webs.” 

Image credit: Bryony Jackson