Tag Archives: relationships

Review: Table Manners, Hat Fair

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Table Manners by Avant Garde Dance

Hat Fair, Winchester [01.07.17]

*Review produced as part of Hat Fair Young Critics

A couple are sitting in a restaurant. We are aware that something needs to be said and that there is both a reluctance and awkwardness about this unspoken segment. A waiter is a third wheel, ever so keen to lose the tricycle scenario and form a bicycle with the woman in pink. We have a triangle upon us. Drinks are poured aplenty. Polite table politics soon become disembodied into questioning and exploring relationship dynamics and cultural shifts. Manners aren’t always in need of minding.

Table Manners is an energised, honest and compelling piece of dance that encourages us to reflect on the habitual behaviours that surround food and mealtimes and, how such behaviours can be reflected within our wider world relationships and our feelings towards ourselves. This is a work of dance-theatre that transcends the boundaries of the audience being mere observers and invites us into a space that is constantly transforming and changing its rules of etiquette. From Brexit banter to self-service checkout debuts, this is a world in which what happens physically and what is said can both complement and defy each other simultaneously.

What is quite captivating about Tony Adigun’s choreography is the importance of moments in their many shapes and the silent discussion that they introduce and manipulate through movement and occasional break off interactions with audience members. It is not often that dance theatre welcomes audiences to partake in the world and still be exposed to the same level of powerful dance performance almost in their lap. Performers Duwane Taylor, Julie Minaai and Sasha Shadid are attentive to audience participants and invite them to live in the world in a shared, intimate environment.

Dance theatre provides a platform to open dialogue and make reference to societal situations that are avoided, sidelined or misunderstood. Through movement, music and pockets of language, Table Manners invites us to acknowledge the harsh reality of colonialism and how it is still able to rampantly white wash experiences. We see Julie eating Chinese take away with a piece of East Asian music playing in the background. This is soon drowned out by the blaring of Rule Britannia overhead. This was a striking and powerful moment that truly laid bare the reality of how even eating a meal has become a specimen for British modification. This moment was visually striking and poignant and reminded me of Seeta Patel’s brilliant dance piece, Not Today’s Yesterday.

Speaking of captivating moments, watching Duwane and Sasha frantically nestle clementines in the folds and cuppings that Julie creates with her body is rather beautiful. Given that citrus fruits symbolise good fortune for a new year within Chinese culture, it is interesting that Julie’s two love rivals wish to inundate her with an overflowing gifting of clementines, which by the end of her ordeal she no longer wants. Sometimes we’re placed into situations where we are given a lot and expected to want and be grateful for what we have been presented with but, this removes a sense of freedom and agency around what happens to us. This is a moment that allows us to reflect on choice focused moments in our lives. It is quite unlike anything I have seen in dance theatre before and for that reason, it will certainly hold a place in my memory for ways to welcome an emotional response in an unconventional and unique manner.

Verdict: Table Manners is a welcome party to a platter of behaviour patterns surrounding food and human relationships. The strength of cultural reference points juxtaposed against the pastel costume palette allows for us to focus on the multiple narratives at play whilst appreciating the visual synergy of complimentary colours and off the chain physicality. Avant Garde Dance are a company I look forward to seeing much more of.

 

 

 

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Review: How My Light Is Spent, Royal Exchange

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How My Light Is Spent by Alan Harris

Royal Exchange, Manchester [09.05.17]

NB: This was a relaxed performance.

Newport, South Wales. Two individuals sit with their backs to each other on a raised rectangular podium. A recording of a phone conversation is played: a man declaring his hands have disappeared. In unison, the two raise their hands to the light. Begin.

Phone sex.

Meet Jimmy. Jimmy is a 34 year old man who lives with his mother, has a kid he hasn’t seen in 4 years, works at a doughnut drive through, hasn’t had sex in a long time and so calls Kitty every evening at 7.30pm for 9 minutes of phone sex.

Meet Kitty. Kitty is a phone sex worker who pretends to masturbate whilst talking to customers, when really she’s just waiting for time to pass. She keeps her childhood locked away in an impenetrable box, practices altruism and dreams of becoming a psychologist.

How My Light Is Spent is an honest, funny and bizarre exploration of unemployment, loneliness, sex work and the search for meaning. Part narrated, part performed in the moment, this hilarious tale charts the gradual disappearance of Jimmy’s body. Somewhat of a modern version of H G Wells’ science fiction novella, The Invisible Man, this play gives us soft sci-fi and a compelling journey through the realm of relationships.

 

Set to a palette of Spandau Ballet, Phil Collins and Maroon 5, some welsh accents and a dash of received pronunciation, our ears very much lead the way in this performance. The stripped back set (which I feel resembles Newport Bridge by night) allows us to focus solely on the two performers. Rhodri Meilir and Alexandria Riley both express their undeniable talent in delivering a multitude of characters, each with their own quirks and emotional truths. They are able to make us laugh and almost cry in the moments experienced by both Jimmy and Kitty.

Whilst this play has a lighthearted feel, it touches on some very important conversations: the state of unemployment and perceptions of sex work. When Jimmy goes to the job centre, if you yourself have ever been to sign on you know exactly how he feels. We’ve all had a Michelle who’s not particularly bothered about your experiences or your aspirations and she really just wants to get you away from her desk so she can admire both sides of her hand for a little longer. Rhodri expresses the apathy and frustration that fills us in the search for a job and delivers a performance with genuine feeling. Universal Credit has been sewing its seeds all over the country yet oddly it is not outwardly addressed in the theatre that often. Yes, there are many plays that explore unemployment but, very few knuckle down into the under layers of a system that can be ignored by those it does not effect. As we watch Jimmy’s decline post ‘signing on’, we are exposed to a very real reality of Britain’s working class or as Jimmy defines it, ‘no class’. The loss of his job results in a lost of meaning and a sense of inadequacy in within that feeling, he becomes lost – disappearing at an alarming rate.

Speaking of rates, it was refreshing to see a piece of theatre include sex work as a key component without solely perpetuating stereotypes. It cleverly explores the positive and negative language around sex work and also opens a window into the world of different types of sex work. Immediately placing the audience in a phone sex scenario was a good choice on the part of Alan Harris – placing an audience in a setting that is usually private forces us to explore how we feel about this scenario but also to question how we engage and participate in privacy. Kitty is a strong, vibrant and driven character who tries to keep most of her feelings concealed. Alexandria’s performance compels us to route for Kitty and to hope that she truly ends up where she wants to be.

The end of this play was looking as though it was going to be a cheese fest but it surpasses all levels of cheese on toast and delivered a heartfelt and beautiful moment when Jimmy and Kitty found the light of life in each other (it was less cheesy than what I just said, I promise).

Verdict: How My Light is Spent is an honest, funny and original love story set on a welsh bridge. Doughnuts, disappearing body parts, personalised saucers and Newport’s answer to Mona Lisa – a truly wonderful play.

 

 

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