Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: Contigo, Linbury Studio

Review: Contigo, Linbury Studio

Published on Culture Wars, 29.01.2010

In September 2003, Channel 4 broadcast a documentary called Jump London that transformed the capital into a adventure playground. The programme followed three free-runners – or traceurs, to use the technical term – as they scaled, somersaulted over and slipped through its major architectural landmarks, including the Royal Albert Hall, HMS Belfast and the National Theatre. Parkour, the art of movement, had arrived and what were once considered obstacles had become challenges. Buildings as blank canvases.

Traditionally, the Chinese Pole is characterised by steely strength and sturdy rigour. Muscles unfurl sinew by sinew and tighten to sheer solidity. Contigo retains that concentrated intensity but re-attacks the apparatus with the explosive energy and fierce machismo of static parkour.

Joao Paulo Dos Santos squares up to the white vertical pole – which is held in place by taut wires at the top – and confronts it head on. It is less a demonstration of skill and core strength as a determination to conquer. There are moments when, with his hulking shoulders bulging out of a black vest, he resembles Robert de Niro threatening his own reflection in Taxi Driver, as if the pole has become an adversary concocted from spare time and deranged hermitage.

That single-mindedness pays off in the grasp that Dos Santos has over his audience. We come close to whiplash each time he drops twenty feet, stopping himself just before smacking the floor. Such is his skill – shown in the collectedness demonstrated by the careful dropping of a marble to match its descent and catch it softly at the bottom – that we come to trust him over time, settling in to a calm admiration. His precision, even when holding himself stiffly parallel to the stage, is phenomenal. Each body shape remains perfectly geometric, always steady rather than strained.

However, Contigo fails to translate into anything more than man and apparatus. There is a vague sense of self-imposed exile, akin to a spirit-walk or some other rite of passage, but there emerge no legible themes. It’s as if the medium itself is too powerful to carry any other signifiers – the Chinese pole struggles to signify anything more than itself.

Astounding, then, but also uninspiring. Contigo invites us to marvel at a man seemingly able to become weightless at will, but the mind is left hanging.

 

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