Manipulate 2020: Sketches, Canto X and Up

Conceptual dance, object theatre and Dante's Inferno: our coverage of Manipulate continues

Article by Joanna Brown and Dominic Corr | 14 Feb 2020
  • Manipulate Festival, 2020: Sketches, Canto X and Up

Sketches (★★★★)

Flowing through the crowd, the trio of dancers at the heart of Sketches demonstrate the sublime craft of conceptual movement theatre.

A gathering of string musicians sway back and forth across the hall, never too far away from the dancers, providing an elegant backdrop befitting each of the movement pieces. Reacting to the musical arrangement around them, the performers deliver a tight, thoroughly thought-out series of movements, taking the audience on as much of a trip as the dancers themselves.  Movements to Bach’s Violin Concerto in A Minor are accompanied by original compositions and interjections from DJ Mariam Rezaei.

Sketches is executed with tremendous skill, but there are a couple of moments that feel ever-so-slightly slightly detached from the fluidity of the choreography. The decision to have dancers moving around and through the audience is immersive but has drawbacks – particularly for those less able to stand or wander for the full forty minutes.

Choreographer and dancer Katie Armstrong has created a beautiful whirlwind with Sketches. The emotion wrought on the dancers' faces adds another layer to Sketches, and is something not always seen in movement pieces. The brief vignettes of choreographed movement – comprised of circling patterns, interlocking movements and personal moments between the dancers – are full of humour and intimacy. (Dominic Corr)


Two people sit in the liminal space of an aeroplane. They tell us the story of Jamie and Jay, who fall in love during a near-catastrophic aeroplane ride. They act both as narrators/ puppeteers (with objects), and as the characters they are describing. Through a series of fragments, we learn the back stories of these characters.

Up is an exploration of object theatre  – a medium which sees performers using objects to tell a story. The brief, 15-minute work-in-progress showing by the company Visible Fictions is simply and beautifully executed: a suitcase becomes a clifftop, a napkin the sea and a small model aeroplane is gently flown into the air. The result is both funny and sad. 

A strong soundtrack accompanies the piece – the sound of a plane flying, the glug of wine being poured – adding another layer to the action happening on stage. Up demonstrates an acute attention to detail, and an inventive curiousity that really works. The ideas that unfold in the post-show discussion are fascinating. By all accounts, Up has the potential to develop into a multi-faceted and intriguing performance. (Joanna Brown)

Canto X

Despite its position in Manipulate as a work-in-progress piece, Canto X exhibits a grand sense of purpose, haunting lyricism and a keen understanding of physical communication.

In part an examination of Dante’s relationship with his inner-self and physical form, the production echoes the connections between the three ‘selves’; our heart, our spirit and our 'husk', the physical form we inhabit. 

We begin as Dante descends through the circles of hell, struggling internally with the ideas of mortality,  religion and free will. Its a semi-battle between logic and belief, with the production's over-arching vocals and minor costume effects chanelling this conflict.

Canto X is a tightly compact show, with tremendous promise. Some scenes designed to be more lingering and meditative are pushed back to back with other volatile episodes, with a slightly jarring effect. As a work-in-progress though, Canto X vastly exceeds expectations. (DC)