Review: H2 Dance - Staging Ages - The Place

Performance: 17 October 2015
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Tuesday 20 October 2015

H2 Dance 'Staging Ages'. Photo: Benedict Johnson

It’s great that age is becoming a focus in dance – Amy Hodge’s 7 – 75 , the Elixir Festival and now Hanna Gillgren and Heide Rustgaard’s Staging Ages. An exploration of ageing is always going to be relevant and topical as no one is exempt from its ravages and this is what comes across in H2Dance’s work; from the nine year old Sandro Gillgren to the 65 year old Emilyn Claid.

The stage is littered with colourful clothing in a Busby Berkeley montage which spans the fashion fads of all generations. Later on there’s an orgy of dressing up as the performers revisit defining moments from their past– wigs, knickers, dresses, even a yellow dressing gown saying Italian Stallion are adorned.
Laura Doehler, Claid, Honey Codrington, Sandro Gillgren and Darren Anderson chat casually at the beginning of Staging Ages. There is nothing to hide behind – they are each acting themselves and about to take us on a little journey through their own ageing processes. Through group interactions, idiosyncratic solos and quirky duets their stories unfold organically, unforced, in a touchingly expressive collage of memories – agonies, ecstasies, or just boring times. An equally evocative aural environment infuses their physical endeavours, created by Sylvia Hallett; fragmented voice overs mixed with ambient music.
There are sections which must resonate with every with every member of the audience: Claid, the mother, trying to discipline Sandro, threatening to confiscate his iPad. Doehler acting 49 and holding a gun to her head, or just lying defeated on the ground. The pushy dad Anderson, drilling his child or playing the self-obsessed 30 year old taking selfies of his penis, Codrington the teenage girl freaking out and rejecting her parents; the 94 year Claid physically crumbling before our eyes, a haunting fear in her face, trying to reach us as her body and mind shut down.

Each performer establishes his or her unique movement sequences through repetition which they then swap and exchange throughout the piece. As they inhabit each other’s experiences they contribute to a shared consciousness and communicate the collective experience of ageing. It’s powerful.

Staging Ages is also a very brave work and the dancers are generous in the way they give themselves to the audience. This is demonstrated when Claid, Doehler and Anderson after blindfolding the two younger performers, strip off in abandonment and leap around the stage like jubilant streakers. We rarely see ‘older’ naked bodies, or indeed bodies that exist outside of a sexual matrix. It’s the ultimate taboo – we feel uncomfortable, jealous, thrilled and revolted at the same time. It’s also a sobering reminder of the centrality of the body as the final frontier between life and death.

What Gillgren and Rustgaard manage to do with their humorous, endearing yet provocative work is avoid sentimentality or emotional overload. There is poignancy, texture, reflection and naughtiness. A work that gives us a realistic, honest take on ageing, it is a tribute not just to the choreographers but the performers that make it so real.

Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Insider

Photos: Benedict Johnson

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