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Kay Herm Physical Theatre - 'While We Were Shopping'; Teet Kask - 'Sad Pleasure'; SIN Cru - 'Stone Seeds'

by Stuart Sweeney

January 17, 2006 -- Robin Howard Theatre, The Place, London

Resolution! is a lucky, or unlucky, dip with three new or newish companies a night over a 7-week period. Sometimes the young artists are still feeling their way and are not ready for the glare of public display, but top names like Russell Maliphant, Wayne McGregor and Rafael Bonachela have all benefited from early exposure at Resolution! in the past and, even if a performance is never going to emulate that elite group, it can bring an invigorating freshness and enthusiasm.

The opening slot on 17th January brought Kay Herm Physical Theatre’s “While We Were Shopping” and with extensive use of video projection of celebrity magazines, Fashion TV and ads for better skin, throughout the performance, this was a satire on the superficiality of the consumer society. The dancers repeat phrases and movements and talk about their own bodies and, even if the choreography and performances are basic, the initial effect of this physical theatre work is light and made me smile. However, a section, based on the TV soap-opera “Coronation Street”, although amusing, seemed to belong in another work.

The sting comes in the tail, when the movement and shallow talk continue, but are intercut with images and quotes about female genital mutilation. This made me sit up and consider the damaging nature of so much of our presentation of the female body, especially our obsession with the trivial, when there are major gender issues to address. In the reviews on The Place website, Kay Herm is accused of gratuitous exploitation of this theme, but as someone who has campaigned against FGM through Amnesty International and other organisations for 15 years, I support the company’s treatment of this issue; an unrelenting, serious examination on this theme would not have had the same impact, in my view.

By chance, this was almost Estonian culture week at Resolution! with works by two choreographers from the Baltic state and two other instances of the use of Arvo Pärt’s music. Teet Kask, has been studying choreography at the London dance conservatoire, Laban, and thus qualified for Resolution! as a UK-based artist. I had already seen a longer version of his “Sad Pleasure” and although some works suffer from abbreviation, this 25-minute re-working made a greater impact than the recent longer staging in Tallinn. Using spoken texts in several languages, including Eloise’s letters to Abelard, Kask’s complex choreography for four dancers weaves intriguing shapes against a backdrop of changing colours. The simple, melancholy music of Märt-Matis Lill underlines the fleeting delight of love and the problematic nature of relationships explored in the dance. “Sad Pleasures” is a movement-based work, fitting easily into the English paradigm of contemporary dance and the performance was well received by most of those I spoke to, although some found the text a distraction. Kask has certainly taken his student dancers to a professional level and I was particularly impressed by the smooth power of Kristian Tirsgaard.

Finally, we had SIN Cru’s “Stone Seeds” and with performers called Ben Jammin’ and Mach-1, it had to be hip-hop and break dance. As a theatrical presentation of these dance forms, it matched some of the top US shows I have seen and its 16 minutes presented a tight example of organisation. We know from Debra Bull’s attempts at hip-hop that this is mighty difficult dance and it’s good to see it accepted alongside more conventional contemporary forms. The dancers “confront their roots” and we hear about the problems of falling and rejection by schoolteachers, but it was primarily a joyful celebration of different forms of street dance. Apart from the solos, other high spots included a fine jump-cut video of kids on the street, hip-hop to Wagner and some interesting partnering. At the end, “Stone Seeds” received enormous applause and I hope this vibrant collective of dancers, musicians and visual artists will be delighting audiences for a long time to come.

Overall I marked this down as a successful Resolution! evening with a mix of styles and themes. and John Ashford, Theatre Director at The Place, told me that the standard generally is good this year and he has yet to have that sinking feeling with three unsuccessful works on one evening, when he wonders whether he should give the audience their money back.

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