Nottdance 8: Staging Ages

A series of reviews in response to Dance4′s biennial festival of dance.

Staging Ages | H2DANCE | Lakeside Arts | 09.03.17

There’s a choreographic refrain that appears throughout Staging Ages. It’s semi-architectural – bodies prop and lean themselves over and around each other; hands are placed, arms pull and heads push. Positions swap, performers grabbing the spots they want, or just dropping out from its endless repetitions.

Over time, the details of this sequence grow so familiar that they become recognisable even in the most fleeting fragments. It gives us something known, with which we can re-examine the performers throughout the work: how they might continue to meet each other as they cycle through different possible combinations, and what kinds of relations these might suggest. What happens when this (by now) familiar push encounters an unfamiliar body? Someone lacks the necessary strength to initiate the next sequence; a formerly minor stumble delivers a wincing impact on another’s body. They grow frantic, beginning to command, exclude and abandon one other.

And then they break away. They rummage through the clothes that litter the stage and play dress up games, presenting themselves to each other and the audience. They announce their age: 27, 36, 67, 12, 17. Or they offer up a younger self; summoning memories in gestures of delight, defiance and pain. They play with what to reveal or hide, and experimentally project towards their futures.

The work has a saccharine quality; a spring in the step, a saturation in colour, a slouching/smirking/slap-on-the-back tone that feels something like a GAP advert. But it pushes this towards imagery that normally sits beyond what’s permitted. This might be sexual – Andrew in his late teens, sharing with us his glee and surprise at receiving a faceful of cum – but includes the more subtle and unsettling too – suddenly 40, he’s anxious and stranded at the side of the stage, self-conscious of his middle-age belly. There are frantic and secret acts of shame; a quiet suicide; a drunk child proudly stumbling across the stage; a solo performed six years too early.

H2DANCE’s piece sits interestingly at the festival, the bulk of which is made of up fairly minimalist pieces. With a cast of five and multitude of different games and propositions, it ends up requiring surprisingly traditional-feeling compositional logics, that most of the others works can eschew. Some of the imagery is a bit heavy-handed, but Heidi and Hannah’s strong sense of timing makes things work: some things flare and disappear, while others are uneasily sustained. There’s an uncomfortably long scene that pushes at the edge of what physical force is possible between the adult and child performers.

At some point, I stop caring about the rhythms of the work – not in disinterest, but a euphoria in seeing Emilyn Claid, founding member of the pioneering experimental British dance collective X6, perform. Staging Ages can be lauded for letting diversely aged performers play with each other and experiment with different modes of sociality; but in inviting Emilyn onto the stage it also functions a kind of archive of experimental dance practice. I’m delighted by the casualness in which she dresses, dances, or steps to the side; the strange and highly affected swagger with which she strides forward (like she’s either forgotten or ignored the received standard of how ‘being neutral’ is now performed); how she and 12 year old Sandro look equally great in oversized white shirts.

There’s a risk of cliché in the seemingly inevitable (yet breathtakingly danced) swan-song solo, but we also get to see her spend just as long running around with tight neon pink shorts falling around her thighs, yellow boxing cloak flapping behind her and blond wig haphazardly thrown over her head. The unique knowledge of the dancer (in particular the older dancer) is emphasised in discussions across the scene at the minute, but it’s clear though that we don’t need anything too precious or sacred to bring this forward. We can just let Emilyn get on with it; she rocks.

21.03.2017

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