Pros: Breathtaking contemporary dance piece on the hot topic of gender roles.
Cons: Light on laughs, light on plot
As soon as I arrived at The Place just off Euston Road I felt excited. The bar was buzzing with a mix of funky looking young dancers and elegant older patrons. The house red was delicious and inexpensive and as I enjoyed a glass I got chatting to a fellow dance enthusiast who told me he’d seen the company before. When I asked him what he liked about them he said that Cousins’ choreography seemed to treat space as if it was a solid – the space becoming tangible and visible on stage. So I thought of my friend as soon as I saw the set. The frame of a large cube was placed centre stage. Dancers moved in and out of the box shaped space which provided focus and spatial contrast on an otherwise bare stage. It was also a clever visual joke – feeling ‘boxed-in’, anybody? The Place is a slickly functional and confident space. It’s in really good condition – no shabby seats here! Side lights dimly lit the stage as we took our seats, and dry ice hung in the air.
Taking As You Like It as its inspiration, this was a piece for four dancers, two male and two female. The central themes were gender identity, stereotypes, and relationships. A strong opening image foregrounded one dancer huddled on the floor while their alter ego stood in the background moving with a quality of bound tension and struggle. All the dancing was highly charged, with frequent changes of pace. Moments of Matrix-style slowness were juxtaposed with fiercely fast chaotic sections where heads, arms and legs were whipped into a blur which seemed to reflect the frustration of being trapped in the stereotypical role of ‘man’ or ‘woman’. The music also pulsed with drama and energy and had contrasting sections and textures, which gave the piece forward momentum.
Each dancer wore a base costume of a corset-type garment in flesh tones. Suits and dresses were added and removed during the piece. At one point as the quartet danced in unison, each wore a suit jacket which appeared to have a kind of net skirt attached – even the costumes were gender fluid!
All the dancing was technically faultless. Dancers rolled across the floor and rose effortlessly back onto their feet, the partnering and lifts had a liquid quality, and everybody had that preternaturally lithe strength that takes your breath away. If I had one criticism, it would be that the dancing lacked a little in terms of playfulness and dynamism between performers. Of course I was there on opening night and I have no doubt that as they play it in they will find more opportunities to suspend moments in space and take risks with one another – they certainly have the competency.
The stand-out section for me was a duet for the female dancers. Performed to a sultry Ella Fitzgerald blues tune, the women took turns to pour themselves off the shoulders and down the back of the other, smoothly undressing and re-dressing as they did. The company states in its’ publicity that it believes dance goes to a place words cannot. The dancers’ dreamlike circling of one another was mesmerising to watch and did just that.
Choreographer: James Cousins
Producer: Francesca Moseley
Performers: Inho Cho, Georges Hann, Chihiro Kawasaki, Heejung Kim
Box Office: 020 7121 1100
Booking Link: http://www.theplace.org.uk/whats-on/james-cousins-company-1
Booking Until: 18 March 2017