Guided by the contours and movements of squash and the confining size and layout of a squash court,
It is the show’s anchoring in the game that makes its take on coordination and dominance so unique
Two dancers, Joshua Smith and Oliver Russel, play a pair of squash rivals who jostle for supremacy throughout the show, both in the segments that most resemble squash and those that employ other motifs. Bedecked in casual shirts, buttoned to the neck and skinny trousers, the dancers look more like models from the men’s section of the ASOS website than squash players - a choice that helps generalise the piece’s themes.
Tony Mills’ choreography explores the ways that competition or co-operation play out in response to a number of conceits or constraints. For example, one sequence is guided by the lines on the squash court floor. To traverse the lines in the most spectacular possible manner, teamwork becomes paramount. Other segments see the pair compete for particular resources, such as the two versatile suitcases which they enter the court with. Even the court’s walls and ceiling get a look in. It is very compelling to see pattern, meaning and structure spring from something that, at least superficially, is so unlikely a source.
The soundtrack is mostly jazz and usually energetic; and the dancers’ stamina is suitably impressive - it needs to be to keep up. However, Squish Squared is not a stampede, nor ever frantic. The routine has enough ebb and flow to maintain interest and to break the sequence up into discrete episodes. Although each of these episodes is not necessarily formally ambitious, the squash court’s confinement helps keep them formally interesting.
Included in the ticket is an introductory session with a squash coach. This is well worth staying for, both because the tutorial is professional, friendly and well pitched at beginners; and because a cursory knowledge of squash and its unique constraints and pressures is a valuable key for unlocking Squish Squared. During our instruction, a novice player who had recently taken up the sport asked the instructor how he and his partner could improve their games. Their problem was that they were too interested in the game’s aesthetics - tricky shots that used the space in clever ways - rather than setting themselves up well for a competitive match. This, the instructor told us, is one of squash’s central dilemmas.
In some ways Squish Squared can be seen as a response to that tension. Smith and Russel must likewise decide between collaboration and rivalry. It is both about squash and about so much more. Yes, they are dancing; and yes, the squash court is used as a symbol for all sorts of other spaces of conflict; but it is the show’s anchoring in the game that makes its take on coordination and dominance so unique. There are few other possession-based sports, after all, where the competitors face the same direction.