Between Tiny Cities – stopping at Contact on its tour of Australia and the UK – is a truly experimental piece of dance theatre. Choreographed by hip-hop dance artist, Nick Power, it brings performers Erak Mith and Aaron Lim – from the cities of Phnom Penh and Darwin – together in a powerful hip-hop dialogue that transcends spoken language.
It’s staged like a break battle, with the audience standing around the edge of a circular performance space, as if waiting their turn to join. Being so close to the dancers confronts us with their humanity – we see their sweat dripping on to the floor and hear them breathing heavily – and allows unique performer-audience interactions. There are plenty of aspiring young dancers watching and being able to see their reactions from across the circle adds to the experience.
The usually confrontational tone of a battle is subverted, as Mith and Lim mimic each other’s movements with curiosity, although their initially tentative call and response dialogue is accompanied by unwavering eye contact. There is a sense of playfulness and spontaneity as the performers move to the multi-layered beats of Jack Prest’s sound design with perfect musicality. There is playfulness, too, in keeping the dancers’ mid-performance break onstage – seeing them collapse to the floor, drain bottles of water and exchange smiles is a reminder of the roots of this work and of breakdancing: in collaboration, in friendly rivalry, and in informal spaces.
Mith and Lim pull out all the stops choreographically, their acrobatic flips, spins and freezes jaw-dropping – but the precision of their subtler movements is equally impressive. One section towards the end sees the two dance together in a hypnotic, fluid duet, their arms constantly in contact as they orbit each other with perfect understanding.
Between Tiny Cities may only be 40 minutes long, but so much is packed in to this engrossing and memorable story told through dance – from the opening cautious exchange to a final trade-off of power moves that continues even as the lights go down.
Between Tiny Cities is at Contact Manchester from 10-12 May 2022.