Artificial Things: fusing poignancy and dynamism into dancing bodies

Stopgap Dance Company’s film Artificial Things (Dir. Sophie Fiennes) was released on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter when social distancing measures came into force to combat Covid-19. Natasha Sutton Williams went to the Watch Party on 18 May.
still from dance film 'artificial things'

Still from Stopgap Dance Company’s Artificial Things

Filmed on location in a derelict suburban shopping mall, Artificial Things features an ensemble of disabled and non-disabled dancers who expose the fury and fragility of the human spirit. With four distinct scenes, the universal need to interact with our fellow man is slowly illuminated through these dancer’s bodies: initially in isolation they slowly start to slide, writhe and finally leap over one another in a joyous climax of lindy-hop inspired choreography.

The piece begins with solo choreographies from David Toole (OBE) and Chris Pavia. Toole stalks the space with subtle menace, while Pavia practically rips himself apart with sheer disgust and rage. The second section is a graceful and haunting duet, with Laura Jones dancing a mini duet with her wheelchair, before Toole appears. This is of the most fragile moments of the film, as they tenderly lean together and begin to lift each other.

The third section builds on this physical intimacy, with a graceful duet from Amy Butler and David Willdridge, that increases in human connection with an understated romance. A finely tuned and deserved moment of pause occurs when all five dancers take part in a living, breathing portrait, staring directly into the camera, daring the viewer to challenge this moment of unmoving, silent unity. The final section is a celebratory explosion of movement and life, with individual choreography mixed with uniformed steps. Included amongst this final ecstatic frenzy are dance motifs harking back to previous scenes. It all comes together to create a euphoric scene of human contact and togetherness.

Inspired by the paintings of Serbian artist Goran Djurovic, the film’s visual aesthetic is infused with Djurovic’s muted palette and dusty light. The film was shot entirely using found light that existed in the abandoned shopping centre.

Artificial Things is a film adaptation of Stopgap’s original, 90-minute dance piece from 2014. This production was lauded in the UK, so much so that it was incorporated into the GCSE curriculum. The piece was inspired by a single image from the imagination of Stopgaps’ Artistic Director and choreographer Lucy Bennett. It was of dancer Laura Jones in a snow-covered landscape, her wheelchair upturned, with a stranger watching her from afar, almost like she was being viewed from within the confines of a snow globe.

The film version captures the miniscule, intimate gestures that can get lost on stage; this form does not allow the viewer to shy away from the more exposing moments, like the unflinching rage standout performer Chris Pavia embodies.

This latest adaptation is directed with subtlety and flair from documentary film director Sophie Fiennes, famed for her work on Grace Jones – Bloodlight and Bami, The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, and Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow. Her trained documentary eye captures the most tender of moments within the entanglement of bodies and juxtaposes them with the seething rage in the flashes of choreographed isolation.

Artificial Things boldly underlines what we are all yearning for at this moment: the power of physical human connection.

Watch Artificial Things for free on YouTube. An Audio Described version is available here: