Running on Empty (Soho Theatre)

A dreamlike blend of dance, text and song from dance theatre company Probe fails to leave a lasting impression

Antonia Grove and Greig Cooke
Antonia Grove and Greig Cooke
© Tim Copsey

There is often something of the dream to theatrical performance, which can explore the buried thoughts and fantastical landscapes that are only otherwise available to our subconscious. Dance theatre company Probe have brought this connection to the fore, creating a new performance that attempts to transport audiences to the realm of dreams and through dreams explore the struggle of one woman’s loss.

It is an admirably ambitious project. Running on Empty brings together a wide range of collaborators, including Probe’s artistic director Antonia Grove, director Jo McInnes, writer Brad Birch, choreographer Charlie Morrissey and songwriter Lee Ross. Together they mesh dance, text and song, replicating the rich and often clashing textures of the worlds we explore while deep asleep. From the beginning, the piece resists being pinned down to any one genre or aesthetic.

At the centre of the piece are performers Grove and Greig Cooke, who athletically run, embrace and collide against the backdrop of a sparsely populated stage. As a couple constantly thrown together and wrenched apart, their bodies mould desperately around one another, clawing and clinging, reaching and grasping. It is never quite clear where imagination ends and reality begins, as shattered shards of memory briefly pierce the fabric of dreams.

Appropriately, Running on Empty follows dream logic: scenes bleeding into one another, narrative threads appearing and dissolving, symbolism giving way to nonsense. Like a dream, it is grasping for meaning that continually slips through its fingers, the fleeting snapshots never forming a bigger picture. The sensations it induces are dreamlike too, as dance, speech and song become a hypnotic blur. At times, the piece resists concentration, as the action proves ironically soporific.

The framework of the dream, however, cannot quite function as an excuse for all of the show’s flaws. The nature of the situation arguably excuses it from any need for structure, but often these fragmentary scenes are so loosely slung together that any forward momentum disappears entirely. The piece also falters in its promise of potent, devastating emotion; the movements of the two dancers are too preoccupied with reaching for visual poetry to surrender to the ungainly, vulnerable rawness of genuine pain and loss. It may be beautiful to look at but, like so many dreams, its impact rapidly fades away.

Running on Empty plays at the Soho Theatre until 16 February.