Feature: George Piper Dances

Friday 7 April 2006

George Piper dances
Critics Choice*****
*Queen Elizabeth Hall, March 03*
Review by Katie Phillips

George Piper dances are not only exceptionally talented – they are also very clever. Before the performance has even begun, they have awarded themselves five stars, and titled their show ‘Critics Choice’. They are guys in jeans dancing against any odds, any stereotypes and any explicit overtones of the sexual, political or social variety. They are strong and talented, look super cool and have a sense of humour to boot, seen not least in the outtakes at the end. In short, they are real people, doing a real job. Not prima ballerinas, not wannabes. Modern choreographers, modern movers creating dance in a fresh and funky way – keeping it real.

Their video documentary-cum-performance details the exploits of a group of men, plus the strutting, flitting, whippet like Oxana Panchenko, with outstanding classical technique, collaborating with contemporary choreographers. Rather than being faced purely with a string of dances, we witness the intimate and touching relationships between company members, which somehow makes us feel that we have gotten to know them, thus we understand their pieces that little bit more – we are aware of where the dances came from and how they have grown in the artistic process of development. The video projection also turns the dance performance into a more accessible media arts event and rejuvenates our attention spans in between dances.

Any choreographic clichés throughout the works are made good by the combination of familiarity with originality. For example, in ‘Red or White’ Akram Khan’s intricate Indian Classical gestures nestle amongst fairly typical floorwork – the movements seem as casual as the ‘erms’ and ‘yeahs’ of the accompanying deeply personal speech. Similarly, despite the repetition in Christopher Wheeldon’s ‘Mesmerics’, we are spellbound by the two bodies fitting together and slipping apart; Russell Maliphant somehow leaves us flabbergasted at his creation which centres around that over-practised class trust technique of falling and catching each other by various body parts. Innovative and unique visual gems lie amid customary contemporary movement, furthering the sense of informality created by our ‘inside knowledge’ of the company.

It is refreshing to be presented with clarification as opposed to interpretation. Matthew Bourne tells us that his duet ‘Dearest Love’ is a reaction to current aggressive depictions of homosexuality on stage. The result is a light hearted piece complete with a few flicks, kicks, pas de chats and a starry sky. Combined with Michael Hull’s Art Deco lighting patterns, the mood is light, and the performance radiant.

The evening’s fin de siecle, ‘Torsion’ (2000), is a game with gravity. The dancers seem forced to fall, jump and land; they are caught off balance but swiftly regain their cool with efficiency of flow so fluent that it is almost body popping. Torsion‘s contact work leaves the audience guessing where the next movement will take the dancers, and us. Which level will come next? What will be the outcome of the next gymnastic reposition? Which gap between their bodies will the dancers slide through, or fall over, or hop on to? And the words “What will George Piper Dances do next?” continue to echo on everybody’s lips as they leave the auditorium. If it’s anything like this ***** choreographic certainty, exquisite dancing, and fine layer of originality, then by George, we can’t wait.

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