Review: balletLORENT in Blood, Sweat & Tears at Arts Depot

Performance: 14 October 2010
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Tuesday 19 October 2010

balletLORENT 'Blood Sweat & Tears'

If you are a parent-in-waiting, approaching the birth of a first baby – or even just contemplating the prospect – I would think twice about seeing balletLORENT’s new production, which recently visited Finchley in North London as the fifth stop on a 12 venue, nationwide tour. It’s nothing to do with the quality of the work but a dance performance that examines the ‘huge impact’ that the arrival of a baby has on a relationship under the title of Blood, Sweat & Tears is not going to take a dreamily romantic, pink-ribbons-and-teddy-bears view of the early experiences of parenthood. Looking at the list of sponsors for Liv Lorent’s new work, I had a quick check to be sure that the Family Planning Association weren’t mentioned somewhere!

There is an autobiographical edge to Lorent’s choice of subject matter, since she gave birth to her first child, just two years ago – although Lorent is a generous choreographer and credits the whole company for the movement language. Despite the dramatic gutsy implication of the title, the soft, dreamy quality that inhabits all of Lorent’s work is still evident, particularly in the last two sections. There are also, it has to be said, literally hundreds of featureless teddy bears that inundate the stage by the end of the third part, carried on, off and back on again in great armfuls, and even thrown on from the wings to part bury the poor parents. Anyone who has had children will recognise with amusement the stuffed-toy menagerie that gradually takes over your lives (my daughters are 20 and 17 and I can tell you – these animals don’t leave!).

Blood, Sweat & Tears previewed with just the opening duet – the whole of Act 1 – at the Edinburgh Fringe in August and, honed through those many extra performances, this seems to be the most coherent part of the work. Philippa White and Gavin Coward play the young parents with strong dramatic and athletic gusto, opening in a group cuddle with their newborn baby. The arduous 30-minute duet that follows examines in intimate detail the struggles of suddenly sharing a young and clearly carefree life with a demanding little stranger. The new compromises of decision-making are illustrated by the parents’ frequent, precarious bouts of balancing – individually and together – on the swinging gold crib that represents the baby; and the trials and tribulations of parenthood find their mark in a no-holds-barred wrestling bout and a sequence of the pair aggressively flinging themselves to bounce acrobatically off the bed. They grab rest whenever possible in any uncomfortable situation and the duet closes with the bed deflating around them. The message is clear: having a baby interrupts a relationship.

Five other dancers join the parents for the second act, which is broken into two distinct parts. I understood that a part of this represented a flashback to a life without the baby, since some aspect of it suggested a celebration (perhaps even their marriage?) but for a while I worried that the baby had died. Bizarrely, the doll representing the baby seemed to be found somewhere under the mattress, a symbol that I failed to interpret. These sections had the soft, pastel quality of other Lorent works I have seen, enhanced in excellent lighting (by Malcolm Rippeth) and free-flowing circular lifts and jumps, including a thematic waltzing, centrifugal movement with the dancers’ legs entwined.

The Arts Depot in Finchley is a little off the beaten track but well worth a visit; quiet, with excellent facilities and a fine theatre. When the stage is populated by a work as thoughtful as this, it all adds up to a worthwhile evening. All the more so for me, since I can safely say that the blood, sweat and tears of my parenthood are all long gone!

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