8 March 2014

Junk Ensemble are an award-winning Dublin-based dance theatre company. Established in 2004, The Falling Song is their first production to tour the UK, although they were Artists in Residence at Tate Britain in 2012.

The Falling Song is an imaginative and highly physical piece of dance theatre that brings together four international male dancers, a live musician and a children's choir for (it says) a look at 'the nature of flying and falling and the dangerous relationship between the two'. The striking staging features a rather sculptural climbing rig of two graduated ladders and two precisely tangled ropes on a small platform, along with piles of mattresses and an even more sculptural percussion rig devised and occupied by musician George Higgs. Higgs adds a slightly strange, deconstructed, atonal layer of live percussion and occasionally guitar to the more melodic, varied pre-recorded soundtrack.

The four performers - Omar Gordon, Carl Harrison, Eddie Kay and Jesse Kovarsky - are likeably distinctive and strongly individual but work as a powerful team. Company founders Jessica Kennedy and Megan Kennedy's choreography, devised with the cast, is a precise and demanding blend of dance, controlled and manipulated movement and appropriated gesture with elements of game playing, conflict and men's social behaviour, from intimacy to obstruction and competition to the futility of mundane tasks - and lots of dramatic falling from height. This is shot through threads of comedy - especially Kovarsky's song and ice skating routine and the clouds sequence, that toys with the performer-audience relationship.

The children's choir - a different local choir for each venue, in this case St Joseph's Catholic Primary School Choir, Sale - is an interesting element. Rather than adding a potentially irksome family-friendliness to the show, the choir form an underage Greek chorus to the other performers. Some children have closer interactions with the cast and these elements are quite dark in tone. The choir's presence draws a family audience with a large number of children in the house but this is not a children's show at all. Pleasingly, the choir are actually great. They perform songs, movement and interaction with the dancers with great conviction and (oddly) maturity, adding an element that is strangely unsettling rather than saccharine.

For all its professed themes of falling and flying, The Falling Song, with its non-linear, episodic non-narrative, appears to be more about the fall from innocence - there is much use made of apples, lots of apples - and the loss of connection with childhood. And in this show, the people struggling with control and forced behaviour and the desire to rediscover play are the men, not the children, who are stoic watchers and narrators of strange tales. This creates an intriguing tension and sense of unease, eliciting some interesting reactions from the audience and making The Falling Song a far more interesting show than the bare bones of it suggest it might be. A show with children that is about being an adult and the importance of finding joy, letting go and falling.