Without Stars Chi solo Photo by David Foulkes. Med

Dance in all its abstract and varied forms is a series of motions conceived to tell a tale without the need for words. The two part performance of Without Stars and There We Have Been by the James Cousins Company was a rare gem which managed to do just that: tell a story.

Debuting for the Kuala Lumpur leg of their tour at KuAsh Theatre, Pusat Kreatif Kanak-kanak Tuanku Bainun in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, the London-based James Cousins Company put on five shows which ran from 16 – 19 October.

The dance was presented by British Council under the CreativityUK programme. Both parts of the programme are inspired by Japanese author Harumi Murakami’s novel, Norwegian Wood.

The love story explores the dependency of relationships between its characters. However, although James Cousins sought to portray this emotional flux with his choreography of the dance, he says that “it’s not Norwegian Wood on stage”: “It was kind of taking out that essence of it and trying to make that clear. So hopefully someone who have never read the book, they can still go on a journey with these people,” explains Cousins.

Gareth Mole was the lead male dancer for Without Stars, the first part of the double bill performance. He takes on the role of Toru who finds himself increasingly attracted to Naoko (portrayed by Chihiro Kawasaki), the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki. Their fates are inextricably bound after Kizuki’s death by suicide.

Then there is Midori whom is intriguingly, played by Albert Garcia although the book’s character is female. Midori is in contrast to Naoko, more light-hearted and playful and Toru finds himself constantly gravitating between these two characters.

Georges Hann became the supporting character of Kizuki for Without Stars. Completely dressed in black, he lurks in the shadows like a lingering reminder of a spirit not quite gone. Continuously moving around the other dancers and interacting with them at intervals, he is omnipresent.

“For me, especially Without Stars, these characters have so many layers that I could work with. But also, these guys as performers could work with. So that kind of drew me to it. Actually, for me the richness of the characters is what makes possible to create something like that,” elaborated Cousins.

The sequences that featured the two male dancers Gareth and Albert were particularly compelling. Despite Albert being male yet playing a female character, the chemistry between both dancers communicated an unabashed and passionate sense of love. We could feel Midori’s desires for Toru as well as how Toru’s longing for Naoko was hindering their relationship from progressing.

Another pivotal moment saw Chihiro’s movements becoming more and more frantic as she repeatedly dances across the stage in a frenzied fashion. The audience could feel the mental anguish and desperation she was going through.

Complemented by a careful selection of music and simple stage lighting, the dancers moved in and out of the shadows, shifting our focus between characters effortlessly. The result was a piece which narrates each character’s story easily.

In the second part of the programme, There We Have Been, Chihiro is illuminated. Suspended in air yet maintaining an upright posture, the lower half of her body is shrouded in darkness. Slowly as the lights lit up, we see that she is supported by Georges.

Throughout the almost 20 minute dance piece, Chihiro never once touches the floor. Instead, she expertly manoeuvers herself around Georges as he deftly supports her weight while maintaining balance.

Such technicality was mesmerizing to watch. At one point, Chihiro stretches her body out and seems to fall. At another, she perches precariously on Georges’ shoulders, grasping only his hands for support. Timing and precision were everything for this piece.

Without Stars and There We Have Been resonated with deep yearning and melancholy as the characters tussle with their inner demons, their wants and desires.

Admittedly, perhaps most of the audience set out for an evening of dance at KuAsh Theatre with only the slightest inkling of what the performance would entail. However, we all ended up being gripped by a poetic tale of love found and lost.

Photo by David Foulkes.