Dance International Glasgow

Didy Veldman: The Happiness Project
five stars

Roberta Jean: Brocade
three stars

Tramway, Glasgow

Mary Brennan

“Are you happy?” asks an unseen voice - the question is directed at the four dancers in Didy Veldman’s recently launched company, Umanoove. There are traces of hesitation, as if this is a question people put on hold in case the answer is “no”. Dane Hurst is the epitome of that swithering. “Happy? Me?” he muses. “I don’t know. Maybe. Being here today. Maybe.”

Now, if the audience had been asked, there would have been whoops and hollerings of a buoyant, affirmative kind - because who wouldn’t be happy to see choreography that’s beautifully crafted, has something to say about humankind and is performed with exquisite finesse to live music by composer/violinist Alexander Balanescu. Watching it, you teeter on the verge of what Veldman is exploring so astutely in The Happiness Project: you don’t want it to end, you want to hold onto it, put it a box labelled “mine - hands off!” That possessiveness comes to the fore in a sequence where Hurst opens one of the four black boxes on-stage and produces high-end designer clothes. “Gucci” he says, “Jimmy Choo, Tom Ford” in swoony tones that are echoed by Madeleine Jonsson, flat-voiced by Estela Merlos while Mathieu Geffre is speechless with acquisitive lust and makes off with his haul. Is he happy? Not when his expensive tastes curtail his freedom to dance.

Jonsson’s bid for happiness sees her muscling in, unwanted, between Merlos and Geffre whose duet is so intertwining and connected they blissfully ignore her. Elsewhere unrequited love, a yearning to belong, a hankering for escapist fun all come alive in dance that is lyrically supple, dramatically expressive and sparked through with innovative flair. Balanescu’s playing spirals through the piece, his involvement is total - not least when Merlos nestles into the crook of his bowing arm as he plays. A special moment in a piece that is a joy at every turn.

Brocade, beforehand, sees four women begin in stomping synchronicity and end in spurts of individual free-form abandon. In between, there will be a shifting parade of rhythmic beats and small incremental changes to that initial movement, as they hop or skip or lunge along the central strip between seating banks in a gloom-shrouded Tramway 4. Occasionally a violin will screech, but there’s no tune to grace the to and fro of a piece that feels more of an academic exercise than a weaving together of female experiences.