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'The Last Hairy'

by Stuart Sweeney

January 20, 2006 -- The Place, London

Resolution!, a key event in the annual UK dance calendar, provides a platform for the new generation of choreographers and performers. Over seven weeks in January and February more than 100 companies present their work, with three different productions each night. The Festival takes place in the Robin Howard Theatre at London’s The Place, the venue and dance school where UK contemporary dance took off in the 1960’s.

Although most of the artists involved in Resolution! are UK-based, ten continental European companies are selected for the Aerowaves segment of the Festival and this year the “The Last Hairy” from Estonia was one of those chosen from over 300 applicants. This work is the outcome of a close collaboration between directors Oksana Titova and Taavet Jansen, designer Jaanika Teresmaa, dramaturge Juhan Ulfsak, and the dancers Oksana Titova and Päär Pärenson. Exploring the themes of beauty, relationships and gender issues with quirky humour, “The Last Hairy” was one of the hits of the past year in Tallinn. The visual aspects are strong, with a repeated motif of Titova, emerging and retreating to a bath located towards the back of the stage. However, that bath came close to causing a disaster – with one week to go before the performance, the team learned that The Place had yet to find one for the performance. For a time it even looked as though the artists might have to arrange to transport their own bath, but at the last minute, a substitute was found in London, and, if it wasn’t as beautiful as the post-modern original, its traditional clawed feet certainly gave it character.

The unexpected plays an important part in “The Last Hairy”, as Titova’s exquisite gowns and her elegant, ballet-trained movement are subverted by her sudden baldness after the first of many blackouts, then a scene with shaving cream everywhere, and later by a metal arm. The obsessive nature of beauty worship is personified by Pärenson’s besuited suitor. In one scene he kisses Titova’s metal arm and then, after another blackout, he is still kissing her arm, but Titova has deserted it and is standing by a wall. Pärenson is a great mover and this work gives him the chance to show off his smooth spins and jumps in street shoes and his distinctive floor work. Whether bourréeing on demi-pointe, ballroom dancing, or scrambling across the floor after pieces of jewelry, Titova always holds our attention. Finally, in a scene reminding me of cosmetic surgery, Pärenson cuts open her skullcap and excavates her hair.

Festival Director John Ashford told me: “In Aerowaves, I aim for a geographic mix and try to present work in styles that we don’t usually see in the UK. That’s why I wanted to have ‘The Last Hairy’ and I’m pleased with the outcome.” Leading dance critic Donald Hutera also enjoyed the work, and the audience reaction was generally very positive: “Visually stunning and the use of video was good,” “So crazy, but brilliant – I loved the interactions between the two performers: playful and teasing,” “Reminded me of a surrealist painting. At forty minutes, one of the longest works in Resolution!, but it didn’t feel too long.”

By coincidence, both the UK performances in the same programme used music by Arvo Pärt, giving the evening a strong Estonian flavour and earlier in the week, Resolution! presented another work by a choreographer from the Baltic country, Teet Kask, who has been studying at the London dance conservatoire, Laban, and thus qualified for Resolution! as a UK-based artist. Overall, these performances presented a strong calling card for Estonian culture at Resolution! and helped English audiences to appreciate the rapid development of dance in this Northern European state.

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