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Published on Thursday, 20 August 2009

Spaceman is a challenging and stark portrayal of the imagined evolutionary process from animal to robot. Billed as “a lone survivor undergoes evolutionary mutations to find out why he’s alive”, solo performer Paul Rous probes the physiology of movement to an impressive though sometimes disengaging effect.

Physically, Spaceman is a real achievement of skill and commitment. A faceless and bonneted figure catches the early morning light as she descends the stairway; her gliding motion is so smooth it appears hyper-real. Disrobing into gym clothes he (!) begins moving with the precise weighted grace of a discus thrower twisting before the release, then morphs into an ape, all weight on thumb and forefinger. After expanding from the human foetal position he seems born into his final form; grimacing as he pulls himself into power positions, trapped in his own skin as he explores the limitations of his own body.

It’s a bleak work that this physical exploration takes place in. With a soundtrack of crackling beeps and a voice intoning procedure and interrogation, it sounds like a mission aborted or at least gone wrong. But who is the conversation between?

Rous moves with focus and intention; his commitment to this exploration is impressive, and his muscular control and isolation skilful. At one point I was determined to spy the contraption he used to glide so freely - but there was no such thing.

However, while I was drawn in, I didn’t feel fully engaged; and at times Spaceman just feels a bit long and slow. It’s likely that my weakness for twenty-minute American sitcoms has just dulled my senses to the degree of subtlety which requires concentration. It’s possible too that this aspect could polarise opinion, but maybe that’s as it should be: Spaceman is dance craft that provokes and challenges.

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