An awful lot of preparation went into formulating Zero Point. British choreographer Darren Johnston initially developed the idea through a Research & Development project at the Barbican in 2014, then he took on a residency at the Museum of Art in Kochi and, while in Japan, also traversed the Shikoku Henro pilgrimage trail. The resulting performance apparently takes on board ideas as diverse as rebirth, quantum physics, the transcendental nature of passing time, the Japanese concept of ‘Ma’, symmetry and transient locations, Zen Buddhism, reinterpreting sacred spaces through digital technology, the transformation of physical space to create immersive environments, and so the list goes on.
The only thing that was readily apparent in the actual performance was the transformation of physical space. Johnston is also a visual artist and, based on this evidence, this is where his talent mainly rests. The division of the stage by lines of light was excellent, as were the projections that traced patterns everywhere; in particular, the electronic static beamed onto two dancers looked fantastic and gave off a mysterious sense of the blurred images of early television.
The actual choreographic content that lay behind it wasn’t great however. The list of Japanese dancers was of an astonishingly high quality (NDT, The Forsythe Company and The New National Theatre, Tokyo, were just some of the Companies represented in the nine-strong cast), but beyond a superb sense of controlled balance, they seemed underused. There was a lovely long uncurling solo for one of the ladies (everything was so dark it was impossible to distinguish who was who) and several other sequences started promisingly, but on the whole, the slow, reflective movement never got near the intended trance-like state – there was too much of a cold disconnect between performers and audience for that.
Tim Hecker’s music didn’t help much either. The drama of the opening organ chord was never recaptured and the squashy electronica that followed it had a tendency to billow up into over-portentous melodrama.
It felt like Zero Point would have worked better in an art gallery space, an environment where you’re free to move around, dip in and out of things, and select your own viewpoints. On stage it seemed to get lost in its own baffling concept and relied too heavily on its audience to give it meaning. It was an interesting try though.
Zero Point runs at The Barbican Theatre in London until 27 May 2017 and tickets can be found on the Barbican website.