CONTEMPORARY?

Sun 7th – Fri 19th August 2016

Venue

Venue

reviews

Charlotte Thomas

at 18:52 on 15th Aug 2016

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'Contemporary?' immerses the audience in satirical, intelligent comedy which pokes fun at the quirks and clichés of the world of ‘contemporary’ performance.

The story follows the three performers as they prepare for the opening of a new piece of contemporary dance. They attempt to put the final dance together using various methods, in which each performer has a moment to experiment and express their ideas. This results in a series of hilarious scenes which are beautifully performed.

The initial reservations I have about the show, owing to the fact that I know nothing about contemporary dance, are very quickly assuaged. Somehow, the ensemble manage to create a world in which the audience feels totally at ease with the jargon and commonplaces of the genre. For example, one of the actors goes as far as to speak to an audience member about what he thinksof a particular dance.

The most impressive aspect of this piece is, for me, the naturalism of the actors. This is performed seamlessly, and incredibly effectively. They endear, entertain and are clearly very at ease on the stage. Each character has an easy confidence about them which draws the audience in with charisma and charm.

The tech includes some well-placed song choices, although occasionally they are slightly too loud, leaving the naturally-spoken actors rather difficult to be heard. A couple of the lighting cues signifying change between performance and rehearsal are slightly out of time with the action onstage, however this is the most criticism I can offer for what is otherwise a very slick technical effort.

Finally, I must emphasise the entertaining quality of the script. It is so subtly written that one is never sure of the extent of the satire, the actors weaving their humorous lines through their ridiculous actions onstage to provide a charming, mocking yet ultimately beautiful show.

Gorgeous dance, cheeky writing and intelligent wit – all in all very much worth a visit.

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Thomas Jordan

at 20:25 on 15th Aug 2016

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Three bodies writhe slowly on stage. Eerie, ethereal music spreads throughout the dark room. One minute passes. Two. Five. ‘Is this it?’, the audience begins to ask themselves. ‘Is this left-field contemporary dance? Is this art?’ What they do not realise, at this stage, is that that is the whole point. After this slow opening, the performers suddenly jump up and begin the actual show in which they mock, satirise, and explore what ‘contemporary’ dance actually is, and how we decide when we are looking at ‘good’ art.

Following this surprise, the first half is still bizarrely unexplained. The early dances are repeated a few times, with the female character stopping the two male dancers and asking for “more energy!” Sometimes it is not quite clear whether a particular dance is supposed to be funny or not. During an apparently serious dance, a spare dancer climbs up a pulpit and begins singing (quite badly, but not that badly) along with ‘Hallelujah’, leading to a few confused and awkward chuckles. This is, however, the charm of the whole piece. 'Contemporary?’s very subtle eccentricities allow the troupe to achieve their satirical objective on two levels: whilst the audience can laugh at the more obvious references to the absurd meaningless of some modern dance, they must also constantly re-evaluate whether 'Contemporary?' itself falls into this category.

With this metatheatrical twist, the dancers place a lot of faith in their audience’s ability to pick up on very understated moments of satire. On occasion, therefore, irony can be lost in satirical translation. At one stage a whole routine seems to be just slightly out of sync – surely too delicate a detail to be deliberate – only for one dancer to turn to the other and say “You were a bit behind there, man.” It is an effective development, then, that the satire becomes a little clearer as the show continues. A routine involving blowing feathers, pouring unidentifiable white powder onto the floor and repeatedly falling off a chair is explained as being about gender rights. This brings more relaxed laughs than the earlier confusion. The dialogue throughout feels amateurish. But these are dancers not actors, and they are undoubtedly aware that the resulting naturalistic style aids them in their self-parody. In any case, their charming Lithuanian accents make all their interactions delightful to watch and listen to.

The piece ends on a rather philosophical note. Each dancer gives a short speech explaining why they dance, and some of the issues raised are wonderfully personal and curious. This is, though peculiar and rough, a genuinely thought-provoking piece; as well as presenting some beautiful dancing, 'Contemporary?' will have many a contemporary art enthusiast lost in a minor existential crisis.

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