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Ballet Nights Spotlight: IMAGO by Pett|Clausen-Knight

Imago, in the world of psychology, and more specifically psychoanalysis, refers to an idealised mental image formed in the infancy of another person that is maintained in the unconscious in later life. The ‘other person’, because infancy is what it is, is usually a parent or carer. It’s not what I had in mind immediately after seeing IMAGO (the block capitals make me look like I’m ‘shouting’ but it is how the show’s title is styled). Then again, it’s the sort of dance performance that is widely open to interpretation.

PETT CLAUSEN-KNIGHT in 'IMAGO'. Photo by Alessandro Botticelli.
PETT CLAUSEN-KNIGHT in ‘IMAGO’. Photo by Alessandro Botticelli.

There are, apparently, twelve ‘chapters’ in the performance: the show’s programme doesn’t tell us what they are, and it didn’t come across as twelve discrete pieces, each entirely unique and distinct from one another. Rather, each part, or scene, or chapter, flows into the next, for the simple reason that there is always one or both parts of the (not so) imaginatively named duo Pett | Clausen-Knight – that is, James Pett and Travis Clausen-Knight – on stage throughout.

Some pauses in this intense performance seem intended for the audience as much as the dancers. It’s a delicate balance between allowing the audience time to reflect on what has just been staged and keeping the action flowing. In a show about how people interact over time, a full range of human emotions are expressed – the pair are embracing in one chapter and pushing each other in another. A large number of flowers are gradually brought on stage, some of which are even used to adorn Clausen-Knight’s face at one point, as though suggesting there are skeletons in the proverbial cupboard that are hidden from public view, and what is beautiful on the outside obscures something less attractive within.

Live music, performed by Sean Pett on piano and Adriana Cristea on violin, is not, I am reliably informed, something that has accompanied this production before. Here, it bookends the show, with the opening piece performed without dancing, the aim being to focus the audience’s attention on the music. But as a steady rhythm built up to a pulsating beat, it felt as though it could have benefited from some movement. The rest of the music, then, it almost goes without saying, is recorded: deliberately distorted sound in one scene just about justifies it, part of a portrayal, reflected in the dancing, of what happens when things go wrong in life.

When all the flowers have left the stage, what is left? Well, it depends on one’s personal perception. I wouldn’t want to suggest that the show is so crude as to assert that no flowers equals no love, and all the flowers means all the love. It came across to me as more nuanced than that, and perhaps it’s simply the deepening of a friendship (or possibly a relationship) that has reached the stage where flowers, or anything else that is used as a façade, has become surplus to requirements.

One might have wished for a bit more tension, but then again, it’s a dance performance, not a soap opera, and the final scene (sorry, chapter) does well to explore freedom and creativity within a framework of mutual acceptance. Somewhat exhausting to watch, and presumably exhausting to perform, this passionate and intriguing work provides much food for thought.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

presents the UK premiere of
‘IMAGO’ choreographed and performed by the critically-acclaimed duo Pett|Clausen-Knight
April 26th and 27th 2024
Lanterns Studio Theatre, Canary Wharf, E14 9XP


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