Published: Monday, 04 March 2013 01:34
Written by Zoe Parker
Woody Allen said that ‘If you are not failing now and again, then you are probably not doing anything innovative’. Thankfully, Yorkshire Dance’s Friday Firsts provides just such an opportunity for choreographers and audiences alike: the chance to experience new and experimental choreography up close and personal.
This particular evening, Double Act, curated by Beth Cassani, explores, provokes and romps with the idea of ‘couplings’, starting with Intercourse, a ‘performative’ solo devised by Louise Ahl. The main focus of this piece is the concept, investigating the relationship between artists, critic and audience, the conclusion of which was a likening of this interaction to sexual intercourse.
Intercourse starts with the performer walking inelegantly toward the audience wearing a Greek tragic mask. There are three chairs which she then proceeds to arrange into various different spatial patterns, presumably a metaphor for the relationships between audience, critic and artist, bringing to mind the Jungian enactment of ‘ego’ and ‘self’. This short section segues into a screen projection of words telling us the explicit things which this performance will do, including ‘coming all over (our) face’. This section is mildly engaging.
What then follows is a monotonous solo, minus the mask, to a single repetitive beat. This climaxes with screams, orgasms, and guttural retching sounds – a comment on how audiences and critics throw up on performers? Ironically, there was a distinct lack of interaction between performer and audience. The material was repetitious, disengaging and although the orgasm section, for obvious reasons, was more exciting, Meg Ryan did it much better.
Perhaps it would be worth Louise really pinning down the intention of this work and consider actually engaging with the audience. As a member of the audience, this was lacking and was aggravating. Intercourse did instigate a much-needed dialogue in the post-show talk about performers, audiences and critical thinking, however, given that it became clear in this discussion that Ahl, in her own words, dislikes most choreography and does not value critical thinking in the form of reviews, one wonders why this would be the main subject of her research. It feels like a narrow perspective to start with.
Young Man! is a smouldering and gutsy remake of Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, which was famously brought to life by Roland Petit in 1946. A daunting task, perhaps, but Carlos Pons Guerra does this with considerable aplomb and this intense version is sweetly brutal, cleverly blurring the lines of gender.
Having found a couple of spectacular women which even Pedro Almodóvar would have found dramatically pleasing, we see their relationship play out amongst kitschy Spanish music, garlicky sweat, plenty of wrestling and a sizeable leg of authentic "jamón".
The opening, which mirrors that of the original, sees Sabrina Ribes Bonet lying on a table smoking a cigarette, with smoke lingering in the air. The rest of the stage is bare, apart from two red chairs and the chorizo she bites chunks out of while looking across the room. This dramatically sets the scene as feisty Victoria de Silva arrives on stage - and all hell breaks loose.
Beautifully visualized, their duet is executed with dexterity using the props in inventive and suggestive ways. The dancers wrestle each other in rolls, balances and lunges, and much of their intertwining takes place on the floor; one taunts the other, pouncing with matadorial virility. The balance of power flips back and forth and much like the first piece, we see very graphic simulations of the sexual act, but this time in movement rather than sound.
This unraveling dance is mesmerizing to watch, though the plot beyond the tussle of a torrid affair is less clear. Thus the ending which included the use of white powder, a lighter, a spoon to mime ‘shooting up’ seemed rather unconvincing and left me a little bemused, and those unfamiliar with the original story - which sees the death of the lead dancer at the end - might feel baffled. That said, Young Man! is an impressively meaty piece of work by DeNada Dance Theatre, showing us that Carlos Pons Guerra has sizeable balls alongside his large ‘jamón’.
Ryan is a quirky gin-and-tonic of dance comedy celebrating the underappreciated genius of Tom Hanks. Devised and performed by Oliver Bray and Rachel Krische, it is a collision of Fred and Ginger with Laurel and Hardy, and like all the great duos, Bray and Krische have that certain ‘je ne sais quoi’.
Bursting onto the stage with panache, they mix spoken word, song and dance and give true Oscar-winning performances. With a convincing crooner style, Bray works the audience, asking individual people to share their dreams, each of which he connects to a ‘Hanksism’. This direct interaction with the audience is very refreshing, immediately breaking the dysfunctional relationship alluded to in the first piece of the night. What bridged that gap further was the use of first names when talking to the sound technician, and to one another.
Unpretentious is the word which springs to mind: Bray has a charming yet masterful delivery. In one hilarious moment, Bray announces to us that he is “the best dancer in the world’ as he raises his foot effortlessly past his groin. The ridiculousness of this has a similar effect to Dawn French’s impersonation of Darcey Bussell. Krische, too, is a classy performer, having worked for companies such as La Ribot and Deborah Hay: she has assured ease, individual style and technical grace. Indeed, Rachel has that same likeable quality which got Tom Hanks his first ‘Big’ break.
Ryan has the potential to be a genius piece of theatre but Bray and Krische still need to find their true jeté. Is there a deeper comment they wish to make? Is a deeper comment necessary? These are some of the questions to explore. What is for certain though, the development of this work will be a riproaring affair to remember.
Donald Hutera recently said that good writing is in the ‘rewriting’, and the same can be true for choreography. We need to create more spaces like Friday Firsts for experimental work to be seen so that artists can create, receive critical feedback without feeling ‘lashed to the boards’ if it tanks. In the words of the illustrious Tom Hanks, “If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it; hard is what makes it great!”