Russell Maliphant’s AfterLight is inspired by the swirling postures of Vaslav Nijinsky. Capturing the dancer’s fawning quality, the piece is an undulating hour of 21st century modernity. Diaphanous projections and striking lighting create an environment that not only frames these solos and duets, but at times consumes them. Maliphant’s piece is a muted expression of Nijinsky’s work, romantic and fluid but at points so drowsy it’s almost horizontal; where are Nijinsky’s famous leaps? Where is his renowned athleticism? If AfterLight is an extension of the powerful photographs that immortalised Nijinsky, it does not reach far enough.
In its full-length form AfterLight is an extension of a short solo piece originally commissioned by Sadler’s Wells for their 2009 Spirit of Diaghilev season; if Nijinsky’s alchemy is to be found anywhere it is in this transporting original solo. Performed here with immense feeling by Daniel Proietto the piece begins with a silent figure revolving and twisting on a spot to strains of Erik Satie’s silvery Gnossiennes 1-4.
Maliphant’s opening choreography is stunning in its simplicity and deceptively powerful, reminiscent of a jewellery-box ballerina. Michael Hull’s shifting pool of light moves around Proietto, caressing him, tempting and teasing him into a duet that feels challenging and raw as well as soft and nubile.
There is a tension present in this first piece that later dissipates; without this tension the magic of Nijinsky’s dancing never feels fully acknowledged. In the next duet (the opening piece has a dual quality so it feels like a natural progression) two nymphs swoon on the floor; their longing is palpable and fills the stage. Olga Cobos and Silvina Cortes’ symmetry is beautiful, each perfectly synchronised movement underscored with the idiosyncrasies of the individual. But after a while their swooping arms begin to pale and when Proietto comes in, their resultant preening and flirting is underwhelming.
Until the ecstatic finale, the remaining duets, solos and trios maintain this slightly pedestrian pace. But a jolt of energy is injected into the whole evening through Hull’s innovative lighting. Maliphant and Hull’s collaboration is genuinely exciting and it’s fascinating to behold such a symbiotic two-way relationship on stage. The projections provide the strength that the choreography occasionally lacks and lends the entire mise-en-scène a greater sense of depth via a dream-like play of perspectives.
Andy Cowton’s original score pulls threads from each of Satie’s delicate notes, spiralling out into a million tiny variations of ambient sound. Cowton also pays homage to the oriental mysticism surrounding Nijinsky and Les Ballets Russes in a score that playfully skips from external references to internal impressionism with great ease and skill.
Maliphant’s connection with his collaborators is clear in every aspect of this holistic performance. The strength of AfterLight comes in its leaps forward into the potential of movement, lighting and sound to form a synergy of expression. But apart from the complex and transcendent opening it lacks Nijinsky’s fire.