The recently appointed co-directors of STRUT Dance, Sofie Burgoyne and James O’Hara, are keen to continue to build on the company’s important directive of fostering new dance works for presentation, and thus the company have created GROUNDWORKS, a platform to give choreographers the opportunity to develop a mid-length performance piece to be presented to audiences within a theatre space. The inaugural 2022 season is a double bill of dance works by emerging choreographers Kimberley Parkin and Jo Omodei. GROUNDWORKS provides a study in contrasts for audiences, as Parkin’s Killjoy and Omodei’s As the Edges Soften represent vastly different visions, expressed through distinct styles and languages.

Rhiana Katz and Luther Wilson, Image by Edwin Sitt

The evening begins with Killjoy by Kimberley Parkin. Two suited workers (Rhiana Katz and Luther Wilson) enter an office space (design by Declan McPhail/Object House) with all the typical fittings: grey partitions, a whiteboard, tables and office chairs, and a very significant rubbish bin. They begin the daily rituals that make up their workday, but something’s not quite right; there’s a nervous energy in their movements, there’s anxiety, small acts of sabotage. Things escalate and get out of control and soon they are at each other’s throats. But is the threat internal, or is there a bigger threat looming large over them? As the walls close in, who will survive?

Parkin takes her time setting up the atmosphere at the start of the piece with all sorts of bizarre microaggressions between Katz and Wilson. Katz takes advantage of the theatrical nature of Killjoy, breaking the fourth wall to comically plead for audience intervention, and allowing us to read a lot from her expressions. Wilson digs deep into some dark places as the work intensifies. There is some fantastic and utterly convincing fight choreography that makes an audible impact on the audience.

The soundtrack by Feels is also key to keeping us on edge throughout the piece, with lighting state changes (design by Peter Young) coinciding with the music and sound. There are dozens of intriguing ideas in this relatively short piece, and admittedly some threads are left hanging loose in the process. The audience isn’t quite sure the show is finished when the stage goes black for the last time, and we’re left with an unresolved feeling. Further refining the central themes and devising more of a narrative could take this darkly funny work to its next stage.

Mitch Spadaro and Jo Omodei, Image by Edwin Sitt

The stage is cleared for As the Edges Soften, which plays in a bare stage with just lighting and the performers, Jo Omodei and Mitch Spadaro, to define the space. In fact, this beautiful work is about the space itself and how the duo move through it, together apart. Omodei and Spadaro begin on a trajectory towards each other but on different planes. They move elliptically and linearly, in swings and roundabouts, quickening and elongating as they nearly connect and then retreat from each other. Their movements are so well in sync, and its clear that Omodei is the focal point of this orbiting duo – Spadaro follows her moves with his head and from the side of his eyes, although I’m unsure if this is intentional or simply a result of maintaining the intense focus needed to remain in sync.

While the staging is minimal, the lighting bathes them in a soft warmth, and the music (Sophia Hansen-Knarhoi) cradles the performers nicely. The overall effect of these simple elements along with the pure focus on movement and interconnectedness gives the audience an opportunity to pause and submerge themselves in the work.

The GROUNDWORKS mission to give choreographers a platform to develop a piece to be performed in a theatre space with full production values is an important pathway for emerging independent choreographers, much in the same way that The Blue Room offers these pathways for independent theatre and dance artists. GROUNDWORKS 2022 brings these two engaging works out of the studio and into the spotlight, where they belong.