• Dance Theatre
  • By Brad Birch and the company
  • Director: Jo McInnes
  • Choreographer: Charlie Morrissey and the company
  • Performers: Greig Cooke, Antonia Grove and Scott Smith
  • Soho Theatre, London
  • Until 16 February, 2014
  • Time: 19.15
  • Review by Owen Davies
  • 7 February 2014
Running on Empty
3.0Reviewer's Rating

Running on Empty is performed by two dancers and a musician. It combines dance, music, songs and dialogue.

The creative team includes a writer, a choreographer, a songwriter and a composer and everywhere it has the hallmark of creative collaboration. The brilliant dancers, Greig Cooke and Antonia Grove, drive the performance forward. Scott Smith plays guitar and clarinet, sometimes feeding them through electronic devices, Antonia Grove sings songs, and both dancers speak fragments of dialogue.

Nothing about the piece seems fixed or certain. The narrative and the mood shift constantly, at one moment reflecting passionate connection between the two dancers, at another a violent antipathy. The music is by turns driving and funky and then reflective and dreamlike. Always the performers are watching and reacting to each other, sometimes giving the impression of improvisation, but this is belied by the precisely choreographed dance duets that are the high points of the show.

The creative team describe the story as one about a woman suffering loss and then struggling to find her future and overcome the emptiness she feels. It is in the dance that this comes most thrillingly to life. There are moments when the wonderful Antonia Grove careers around the small empty stage, expressing a fierce sense of determination, and almost bouncing off the two pillars that bisect the space. There is a dance duet of powerful erotic force that leaves both dancers exhausted.

Not all the text works so well. In the quieter moments there are fragments of dialogue that hark back to moments of doubt and sadness – “Is it too late for rhetorical questions?” – and to past events perhaps. There is a very funny passage where the dance is child-like and the dancers mimic comic animals. The music is evocative and Scott Smith is a constant presence in the action, not a pit-bound accompanist. The unspoken communication between the three performers is a testament to the collaborative creative process that drives the whole piece. The songs are less successful – melancholy and plaintive but very difficult for a dancer struggling for breath to bring to life.

“How long can you keep running?” the woman is asked after a passage of frenetic action. Long enough to treat the first night audience to a display of bravura dancing. But the attempt to build songs and dialogue into a coherent unity with the dance is not so successful.

About The Author

Owen Davies was brought up in London but has Welsh roots. He was raised on chapel hymns, Handel oratorios and Mozart arias. He began going to the theatre in the 1960s and, as a teenager, used to stand at the back of the Old Vic stalls to watch Olivier’s National Theatre productions. He also saw many RSC productions at the Aldwych in the 1960s. At this time he also began to see operas at Covent Garden and developed a love for Mozart, Verdi and Richard Strauss. After a career as a social worker and a trade union officer, Owen has retired from paid employment but is a student at Rose Bruford College studying for a BA in Opera Studies.

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