EFR - Reviews of Plan B for Utopia

Plan B for Utopia

Fri 21st – Sun 30th August 2015

reviews

Isabella Goldstein

at 00:16 on 22nd Aug 2015

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Original and uplifting, Plan B for Utopia is one of the stand-out dance theatre pieces on show at this year’s Fringe. The show’s dialogue is limited; in place of words, movement is used to ask questions, represent emotion and, ultimately, to generate meaning.

Solene Weinachter and John Kendall give mesmerising performances, both as soloists, and as a duo. They read one others ques flawlessly, so perfectly in sync that sometimes it is difficult to believe they are of separate body and mind.

The show uses dance to create a sense of how our lives are shaped by a series of unpredictable forces and events. Solene and John illustrate this onstage as they battle for control of one another - grabbing, lifting, pushing and pulling until finally one of them is forced to submit to being lead.

The performance is flexible and versatile in terms of its register. Solene and John are masters of movement, able to transform deep despair into joy and merriment in the blink of an eye.

Whilst the style and the tone of the performance is abstruse and shifts constantly, its characters have a definite sense of identity. John is brilliantly serious, pensive and cynical – repeatedly responding to Solene’s praise for his dancing with “are you taking the piss?” Solene is his foil: enthusiastic, eccentric and bubbly, she guides our understanding of the performance by articulating some of the questions it aims to address.

The fact no answers are ever voiced demonstrates how Plan B for Utopia is a play that self-consciously rejects language in favour of discovering new modes of expression which can address socio-political issues without seeming preachy or cliché. Itdoes this successfully; striking a perfect balance between ambiguity and didacticism.

Throughout all of the “cycles of hope and despair” that the performance depicts, one thing has remains constant and that is the characters’ sense of hope. Time and time again the routines go back to the same premise that “happiness is all about perspective” – if we dare to imagine a better world then we are already halfway there to making it happen.

Music is used very effectively to symbolise this. Solene and John’s moving solo performances to What a Wonderful World and Somewhere Over the Rainbow seemed to me to answer the play’s overarching question - when everything is broken, can you pick and pieces and try again?

The answer is yes, and not only is it possible: it is imperative. Utopia may be unobtainable, but hope is a pretty good plan B.

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Chloe St George

at 09:38 on 22nd Aug 2015

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Plan B for Utopia explores a theme that should resonate with most of its audience: when life doesn’t go according to plan, when things don’t live up to our expectations, or when we realise how transient happiness is. It is a show that will always show us the sigh at the end of a fit of laughter, the part after the happy ever after, and the climax which brings exhaustion rather than the predicted ecstasy. The show asks us how we should start picking ourselves up again in such situations and does this with all of the unusual contortions and abstract beauty of contemporary dance, as well as music, comedy and absurdity.

Whilst these questions may remain unanswered (in its defence the programme notes that the show aims only to be the beginning of a long and complex conversation), there is certainly a development in the narrative of the performance. The first scene is a disco-pop style routine, which creates an almost hedonistic atmosphere, as if carefree dancing really is the answer to all of the world’s problems. It is a great way to start the show, not taking itself too seriously, and easing its audience in gently to contemporary dance, a genre which may scare many people away. The final scene is really rather beautiful, and moving, an abstract piece about picking yourself up and building something from scratch after losing everything.

Unfortunately, what happens in the middle is at times inaccessible. The show need not provide any definitive answers, but I felt that suggestions and possible solutions should have been explored more. What’s more, I couldn't help but feel that the show never really got started. Take the final scene away, and I would still be struggling to make sense of it all, to spot the aims set out in the programme within the actual performance.

That said, the dancing is wonderfully controlled and enchantingly fluid, if not hugely varied. The performers make use of it to display a range of emotion. At one point, Soléne Weinachter’s dancing is desperate, twitching like a fish out of water using up its last bursts of energy and one can feel sense of utter exhaustion and then new found energy from John Kendall’s performance. However, this show is as much a demonstration of the power of voice as of movement, and Weinchter should be commended for her voice effects.

Grassmarket’s Dance Base is a great space. The set is suitably spacious and bare, with high ceilings, and a sheet of plain white plastic covering the walls and floor. This is the perfect way to express the notion implied in the programme: that it is our imagination which lifts our spirits and our personal relationships that support us emotionally – and in this show, physically - rather than the gifts, plastic dinosaur toys and birthday cakes.

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