Review: Eleanor Bauer & Touch Wood 5 in Big Girls Do Big Things at The Place

Performance: 18 & 19 August 2011
Reviewed by Sam Gauntlett - Monday 22 August 2011

Eleanor Bauer 'BIG GIRLS DO BIG THINGS' 18-19 August, The Place. Photo: Reinout Hiel, courtesy The Place

Reviewed: 18 August

As part of the Summer House season, Touch Wood is an opportunity for choreographers to show works in progress in a studio setting. This week choreographers seem to have been encouraged to pose specific questions to the audience in an attempt to prompt feedback. This process has the added benefit of focussing the viewing experience, giving an additional insight into the artist’s process and intention. The diversity of the pieces shown is food for thought too. Subathra Subramanaim asks us to consider how projected imagery and vocals add to South Indian classically influenced and emotionally charged piece Elixir, while Ben Ash talks us through a number of very short experiments with three swinging pendulums and a trio of male performers, under the title of Execute Now. Badlands is a piece that Robert Clark presents, asking what we expect from a love duet and the chance to see Jonathan Goddard, the first contemporary dancer to win the Critics’ Circle National Dance Award for Best Male Dancer, perform an excerpt from a new untitled work in progress, and perhaps, in responding to his question of what happens next, to have some input to the development of the work, is a rare treat.

*Big Girls Do Big Things*, the feature performance of the evening, hangs on a frame of comic timing, presenting very carefully honed moments in such a way as to make them seem random and under-rehearsed. Eleanor Bauer is a bold performer, whose risky piece explores a whole gamut of emotions and varying shades of human frailty. She tramples down the fourth wall by forcing us to endure her awkward self-conscious posturing and creates at times an uncomfortable viewing experience by drawing moments out far beyond the point that they should be interesting.

Bauer wears a baggy polar bear costume for a large proportion of the show, something that was inspired by an audience member once describing her as a polar bear that moved like a swan. However, although the costume presents us with some comic and curious moments, such as when Bauer appears to writhe around inside it as if it were a sack, any statement about the female body and perception of body size seems to have been lost. The piece is complex and has no obvious theme or focus, but instead shows us aspects of a personality: a woman who is at once shy and embarrassed, passionate and angry, keen to exude “sexiness” and desperate to impress. Bauer herself is possessed of impressive talent: she moves with graceful fluidity, performs precarious acrobatics on a step ladder and carries off an impressive rant expressing feelings of powerlessness in a modern world where no matter what course of action she takes: snorting copious amounts of cocaine, undergoing colonic irrigation, voting for Obama and for change, “nothing happens”. A long drawn out section performed on the ladder, where she sings the chorus of Patsy Cline song, Crazy, over and over each time climbing a few notes and another rung all the way to the top and beyond her vocal range to find herself screeching the last few lines is brave and very funny.

Summer House continues at The Place until 16 September **”more details/booking“:http://www.theplace.org.uk/summerhouse

More Summer House reviews Rootlessroot Company and Bloom!

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