Review: Nats Nus Dansa - Mons - Lilian Baylis Studio Sadler's Wells

Performance: 15 & 16 November 2013
Reviewed by Jeffrey Gordon Baker - Tuesday 19 November 2013

Nats Nus Dansa  - 'Mons'

Performance reviewed: 16 November

When approaching dance or theatrical work made for children it’s relevant to consider whether the subject matter is meaningful to a young audience and also, perhaps the most pertinent question when you’re stuck in the dark with a few dozen primary schoolers; does it hold their attention. Mons (when I close my eyes) conceived and directed by Claudia Moreso and her Nats Nus Dansa company from Barcelona, is a beautifully crafted work of contemporary dance that is both considerate of children’s preoccupations and sensibilities, but also structured to accommodate their attention spans.

The work was inspired by the work of Taiwanese illustrator Jimmy Liao. Many of Liao’s illustrations show a small child dwarfed by an intricately detailed and colourful world, suggesting the overwhelming but rich nature of childhood experience. In Mons the everyday but still basically existential fears of children – not fitting in, getting sick, dying, being too short or being made fun of – are countered by representations of children’s unique ability to make worlds for themselves out of their own pleasures and fantasies.

A girl’s own body seems to be playing tricks on her, fingers and limbs scampering out of her control, until she harnesses her inner wiggles into joyful, proud and accomplished dance steps. Dreams of footballer stardom, or a wall of sweets in which to indulge, or a mountain of books, or forest of giant flowers in which to escape were presented against scenes of bullying and awkward loneliness. During a section that began with a cruel game of musical chairs in which a girl is taunted and excluded by her peers, the tone and attitude of dancers Gemma Diaz, Emili Gutierrez, Joan Palau and Noemi Ventura, although all clearly adults, was so spot on that they could have been mistaken for an actual pack of kids on the playground. This was reflected in the rapt attention of many young audience members who looked on with pensive concern. ‘Why are they doing that to her?’ my own little one worriedly whispered as he sat on the edge of his seat.

Moments of simple whimsy were also among the highlights; an Alice-esque bunny headed interloper onstage before the show began, a dancer with the image of what could be her little girl self projected onto her own dancing body, a scooter and skirt made of cloud-like cotton wool material, and giant concealed balloon ‘clouds’ that along with simple and effective projections, made the dancers look as though they were cavorting in the sky. At the end of the day the ‘cloud’ balloons, the projections and bunny heads are pretty stock gimmicks, used to capture the attentions of squirming kiddos, but here they were used with such economy and delicate precision that they were more than earned by the simplicity of the magic they conjured.

But the content of the piece and it’s simple message, that the worlds inside and outside ourselves can counteract and compliment each other, was never far away and not at all beyond the apprehension of the young audience. When the cast spoke their few but well placed bits of text in heavy Spanish accents, the house was filled with the murmurs of parents providing hasty translations for their quizzical youngsters, but there was also the hum of heightened awareness produced by the careful listening of the children themselves, wanting to know what was happening to these onstage ‘children’, what they were worried about and how they were coping with it. Mons is a wonderful dance theatre piece for children that respects the integrity and unique perspective afforded by childhood itself.

www.natsnus.com



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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