Review: Lost Dog - It Needs Horses/Home for Broken Turns
What could be more logical than for the 2011 Place Prize winners Lost Dog to follow up their celebrated duet with a sequel? With 30,000 smackers burning a hole in their pockets, who can blame choreographers/directors Ben Duke and Raquel Meseguer for picking up where they left off, employing the often lucrative Hollywood formula of trying to perpetuate a success with a bigger and better continuation of what worked before. That is, however, where the logic ends in this perplexing double bill of tenuously connected dance theatre pieces.
It Needs Horses is a dark and backhandedly slapstick satire, in which a bedraggled pair of circus performers, a man and a woman with garish and smeared make up and tattered costumes, ultimately resort to enactments of sexual violence and mutual humiliation, when they realise their old tricks no longer work on either the audience or each other.
Dancers Christopher Evans and Anna Finkel start off as a team. Like deer in the headlights of an unforgiving audience’s stare, they grimace nervously, striking pathetic poses, adlibing in gibberish and scrambling through sloppy, manic soft shoe dances. They seem to be desperate to entertain us. Their anxiety about us soon transforms however, into hateful viciousness directed toward each other.
Finkel gets Evans down on all fours, riding him roughly in a simulation of forced copulation, and he in turn holds a knife to her throat, making her whinny and gallop around like a show horse. She eventually ends the cycle of abuse by stepping out of the ring, leaving him behind and exiting ironically, out of the theatre door through which the audience entered. The parallel between these two resentful, sad sack characters and the perpetually embattled power dynamics in human relations more universally, is interesting, even existentially chilling at times. This thematic hit is the strongest aspect of the piece. The simultaneously monolithic and playful quality of the circus ring setting lets us hone in on the details of this relationship, allowing for multiple and contradictory readings that are intriguing and emotionally affecting.
The opening image of the new work, Home for Broken Turns , is promising enough for the start of a sequel. We see the circus-lady character Finkel played in Horses now standing out in the cold as it were, looking vulnerable on an empty stage surrounded by ambient street noise. It is as though she were outside the very theatre in which we are seated, a character having left her own story, now in search of another one. Eventually she is welcomed back into the fold of a kind of familial coterie consisting of an ambiguously Hispanic mother figure and three seemingly feral, sexually inappropriate sisters.
What follows is an inscrutable dramaturgical onslaught in which the five women flop around wearing the overwrought expressions of an amateur dramatics troupe, warbling Spanish-y prayers to a stuffed chicken, emitting occasional ear-splitting, shrill screeches and incestuously groping and mouth-kissing one another, until one them decides finally to leave, presumably to take the place of her prodigal sibling in the circus ring of the first act.
The cast are capable movers and should be interesting to watch, but they are upstaged by the un-modulated intensity of their own performances – gasping and emoting so as to appear plainly indulgent – and the fact that, despite supposedly inhabiting the same theatrical universe as the first piece, Home for Broken Turns blithely and confusingly ignores the conventions set up by It Needs Horses. The former piece is noteworthy for its subversion of a recognisable theatrical form (circus) and its use of a relationship between characters and each other, and between them and the audience, as a kind of open metaphor. This iconic simplicity is missing in the new work, muddled as it is in a mish-mosh of languages and narrative elements, all of which are presented at a fevered emotional pitch with no cohesive device or in-road available to us for understanding it all.
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.
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