Review: Joe Moran - Arrangement - Greenwich Dance

Performance: 15 November 2014
Reviewed by Jeffrey Gordon Baker - Friday 21 November 2014

The boy dancers are like overeager adolescents as they burst through the back door of the theatre and into the space. The six strong cast occupy a lit square of Greenwich Dance’s cavernous Borough Hall intermittently, sometimes filling it with an overlapping cacophony of fleeting unison motifs and seemingly improvised tidbits of agitated release-technique activity; and sometimes they retreat to the side, still visible but neutrally watching each other, patiently waiting for their next turn. Arrangement is Joe Moran’s “reaction to all-male contemporary dance” and in an interview on this site he expressed his frustration with the one-note athleticism and intensity that he feels stereotypes masculinity and characterises recent representations of men in dance.

At first glance the work would seem to deploy some of the very hyper-masculine propensities that Moran criticises. Even from a distance we hear panting breath sounds as male bodies engage each other aggressively in what appears to be a violent discombobulated scrum of limb-locked conflict, but he’s patient with this picture, allowing our focus to rest for a long time on this sweaty scene. As it slowly evolves, we gradually notice cooperation amidst the muddled mass of arms and legs, and we see how generous and curious the shifts of weight and intuited entanglements must be in order for the dancers to avoid dangerously twisting each other’s necks or allowing one of their heads to crack hard against the floor. Then they’re moving towards us, oozing with intention like an amoeba of dismembered and reconfigured body parts.

In some of its most sophisticated manifestations, critique can be a conscious engagement or dis-identification with the object upon which it is focused. Invoking binary oppositions, implicitly mirroring those assumed to be intrinsic to gender and sexuality differences themselves, the group shout orgasmic affirmative ‘Good’s and defensive rejecting ‘Bad’s repeatedly, as they pile up, one by one, lengthwise on top of one another, each man mounting the next, until they form an absurd pyramidal architecture that begins to scoot around awkwardly until it finally falls apart. The bombastic energy, musky and tough overtones of masculinity are confronted here, but pushed beyond the comfortable and well-worn images of competitive manly posturing and physical prowess, and the homoerotic undertones are neither played for laughs nor ignored; instead, Moran gently, incisively queer-ies these things.

The piece is arranged around a central Q&A session with the dancers, in which the company joins us in the audience, and take it in turns to go up on stage individually or in small groups to answer questions from the floor. At first the dancers questioned each other, but lengthy pauses in the dialogue naturally invited audience members to start asking their own questions. Someone asked which one of them smelled the worst, presumably alluding to the close contact during the show, and someone else asked if they enjoyed the smell; apparently some of the cast smell better than others. Giannis Tsigkris was asked what he would change about the piece and responded that he would add a woman. Alexander Standard was asked if he could go back in time what would he tell his 14-year-old self, and replied “Everything will be ok.”

When Andrew Hardwidge went up for his turn he smiled cryptically, regarding us pleasantly, not exactly refusing, but simply not responding to any of the several questions put to him. Hardwidge’s bemused expression, his open beguiling presence was palpable here and throughout, as when he affected an awkward bow and a vaguely flamboyant gesture in a brief solo motif near the start, repeated again at the end. His eyes seemed to both invite questions and to question (or challenge) us, about who he might be or what he might desire; he capably embodies the ambivalent vulnerability that it seems Moran would like to see rejoined with the image of the male dancer.

Photo: David Edwards

Jeffrey Gordon Baker is a transplanted New Yorker living in London; an artist and writer who has studied art, performance and aesthetics at New York University, Central St Martins and Birkbeck College. Find him on Twitter @jeffreyGordonB

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