Review: Luca Silverstrini’s Protein - May Contain Food - Shoreditch Town Hall
Performance reviewed: Tuesday 6th Dec, 6.15pm
As guests of Luca Silverstrini’s Protei , we take our seats at fancy restaurant tables set up in the stately Shoreditch Town Hall. Each table bears an installation of food, designed by Yann Seabra, or symbols that we associate with different food preferences: animal skins and skulls are perfect for the carnivores, grass for the altruistic vegans, vegetables for clean-living vegetarians and pasta mounds for Mediterranean tastes. My table, littered with plastic bottles, tins and pot noodle is the Fast Food table and distinctly frowned upon by the snooty staff.
Our ingratiating waiters, waitresses and pompous Maître D’ (Martin George) attend to our needs and bring us wine or water and a menu, served with an outburst of operatic singing, a pirouette or a jeté. They are all flounces, grimaces and fake smiles. Bitchy comments fly from one waiter to another – dancer Andrew Gardiner slags off the tipsy Donna Lennard who is struggling to serve her table. We could be in some experimental restaurant like the former Spanish El Bulli or the ostentatious Le Gavroche, where service might be as tightly choreographed and body language as flamboyant. The pretentiousness of food connoisseurs or celebrity chefs is also exposed, exhibited in Lennard’s erotic performance while she prepares a roast or George’s gushing odes to various fruit and vegetables which rapidly turn into apoplectic rages as he discovers their poor ‘supermarket’ quality.
While we are entertained (and fed) by imaginative singing, dancing and thought provoking narrative directed by Luca Silvestrini and composer Orlando Gough, we also learn a great deal about the political, social and cultural aspects of food. There are moments of pure silliness, when Andrew Gardiner instructs us to enter a Zen like state in preparation for eating cherry tomatoes; we must massage our face with it and breathe deeply. Then there’s witty invention as the performers sing an operatic aria congratulating the chains of people who bring food to our plates and the comical if disconcerting duets in which dancers Gardiner, Saara Hurme, Sonya Cullingford and Matthew Winston strip down to become the noisy, sweating, muscular, livestock that start off in the field and end up on our plates. Knotty lifts, where limbs are entwined and partners’ heads end up resting on plates, remind us of the gruesome process of transforming living creatures into heavily disguised, succulent meat.
As the members of Luca Silverstrini’s Protei rightly acknowledge in their culinary investigations, we have extensive personal associations with food. This is illustrated by the couple who have a fight over their restaurant table, with one storming out; the danced quartet in which food becomes a sexual substitute; the frightened child, (Hurme), hiding behind a table cloth to avoid being forced fed by her voracious mother; and the powerfully moving memories triggered by the smell of home cooking. Sonya Cullingford performs a trance-like dance around a floating table which is repeatedly lifted and positioned by the other performers. They follow her across the room as she floats on a journey of nostalgia remembering the fragrance of her grandmother’s apple pie or Sunday roast.
Food also brings out strong emotions: the passion and hatred expressed by the Vegan (Gardiner) towards carnivores or the tedious rants of the ‘free from’ lobby. Each scenario, memory or lecture is conveyed through fluidly crafted relationships between language, movement and song, making for a richly textured and often surreal experience.
The message that comes over large in May Contain Food is that middle class (predominantly), western society is obsessed with eating whether it is about displacement therapy, comfort, greed, curiosity, habit or simply enjoyment. As I see the performers send up foodies or faddies, I cringe about my own dysfunctional relationship with food and the amount of time spent thinking about it.
However as the intoxicating smell of baking gingerbread cake wafts through the space, we wait with anticipation for the final tasting of the evening. It brings us another foody memory which we will take home and treasure.
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.