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The Cholmondeleys and the Featherstonehaughs - 'Double Take'

Two views of the Chums and the Fans

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

May 20, 2004

by Lydnsey Winship

Lea Anderson's Chumlees and Fanshaws (it's easier to write them the way they're pronounced) are 20 years old this year, and what better way to celebrate than a birthday bash. To add a bit of a twist to the proceedings, Anderson has thrown in some characteristic gender bending. From Shakespeare to panto to drag, there's always been something intriguing and entertaining about a man playing a woman's role, and vice versa, and Anderson carries on the noble tradition. In this case, the all-male Fanshaws dance "Flesh and Blood," a piece created for the all-female Chums in 1989, and the female troupe serve up a selection of short Fanshaw pieces from the repertoire.

The girls look like they're having a ball in a series of cabaret inspired, pulp/pop culture pieces. Dressed like spivs in suits and quiffs, they drink and banter round a smoky bar room table waiting for their turn in the spotlight. The simplest ideas are often the best. "Greetings" is a duet composed entirely of gestures of greeting that is inventive, comic and acutely observed. "Strangers" sees the dancers combining a karaoke rendition of "Strangers In the Night" with a Twister-style game of contortion. Best of all is "Elvis Legs," a montage of the King’s most hip-swinging dance moves. A crowd pleaser yes, but a brilliantly executed piece of dance too.

One of Anderson's best qualities is the ability to create radically different worlds just by changing her dancers' gait and gestures. She can completely dissolve their personalities, their egos and their human qualities in one twist of a torso. The men in "Flesh and Blood" are monk-like, in floor-length lamé dresses and rouged cheeks. Their square shoulders bulge in their frocks, their presence is alien and their obsessive, repetitive moves slightly disconcerting. One minute they're seemingly chained to the earth, their limbs making mechanical moves, the next they're spelling out delicate hand gestures like overgrown geisha.

It's hard to believe these are the same men who tumble back on stage at the end of the show to join in with the girls in a spirited finale. Bouncing up and down in t-shirts, sweatpants and big smiles they look like any other gang of pretty boy dancers. Just goes to show what a difference a dress makes.


May 21, 2004

by Stuart Sweeney

I really enjoyed this show. The all-male version of "Flesh and Blood" had power and guts, if not the finesse, of the earlier all-girl versions. It provides an opportunity to assess what is distinctive about Lea Anderson's choreography. My impression is that she makes greater use of unison than her contemporary dance peers, whether it be for the full ensemble or with sets of dancers performing unison in contrapuntal mode. Gestural movement is also important, especially in the trio at the front of the stage early on in "Flesh and Blood," speeding up to a frantic pace. Anderson also finds unusual movement, such as the dancers on the floor performing sinister scorpion-like oscillations. Overall this study of obsession and ecstasy retains its power, and the designs -- so cutting edge when first seen -- still look good.

I saw an early version of "Double Take" which closed the opening gala for Laban, and again it provided as much fun as I've had with my clothes on. It's based on a cabaret format reflecting the origin of the ten short dances in bars and clubs with beer-covered floors. Girls in suits always have a head start, and "Walking Woman," with hats as well, again shows Anderson's skill with unison and variations. "Greetings," based on forms of.... greetings, is fine fun leaving you wondering what will come next as we pass quickly through typical hand-shakes and cheek kissing on to uncharted waters of knee grabbing and other arcane practises.

The high spot has to be "Elvis Legs," which takes some interesting moves from The King and transforms them into a wonderful trio dancing on the spot and set on a diagonal. In "Elvis" and other numbers, Maho Ihara's pure dance skills stand out in a talented team of dance theatre artists. Centered, full of precise dynamism and swinging her arms and legs to the beat, Iharo is truly a King or perhaps a Queen.

Happy 20th Birthday Lea, and here's to many more, combining humour and high-class choreography.

Edited by Lori Ibay

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