Review: Quarantine - Wallflower - Battersea Arts Centre - part of Dance Umbrella

Performance: 20 - 22 October 2016
Reviewed by Sarah Kent - Monday 24 October 2016

Quarantine - 'Wall Flower'. Photo Simon Banham

Performance reviewed: 20 October

Formed in Manchester in 1998, Quarantine describe their project as “an ongoing exercise in mass portraiture” and participants are as likely to be plumbers, chefs, florists or electricians as professional singers, actors or dancers. Wallflower, for instance, is performed by writer Sonia Hughes, performer James Monaghan and dancer, Joanne Fong and although part of Dance Umbrella, it is as much about memory and the importance to us of music as it is about dance.

Asked by director, Richard Gregory to remember every dance they’ve ever done, each responds differently to the task. Fong’s recollections begin with her seven-year-old self dressed in a pink leotard, silver belt and wig, spinning round and round to Dance Yourself Dizzy by Liquid Gold. Joining her, the others laugh and whoop with exhilaration but soon have to drop out, while she continues to leap and twirl with child-like euphoria.

She recalls rehearsing with Alan Vincent, who was so good looking she wanted to throw herself at him; hurtling across the room at full tilt, she leaps at Monaghan, who just manages to catch her. She also remembers Darren Ellis, her first pas de deux partner, whom she met as a 16 year old student at the Rambert School. She does her best to conjure their duet from Le Corsaire; dancing to Love Lost by The Temper Trap, she tries without pointe shoes or partner to play both roles – providing support and soaring weightlessly.

The strip of red plastic running across the floor turns out to be a prop from her last dance, a solo performed four years ago in Madrid. Giving the impression that her days as a ballet dancer are past, it adds poignancy to her memories of being a young sylph pirouetting through the years.

Monaghan can’t remember the name of any songs; prompted by his efforts, though, the audience comes up with Heads High by Mr Vegas. Dancing to the reggae classic, he moves across the floor with rubbery undulations. Most of his other stories involve details about his partners. Cousin Kirsty, for instance, has thick hair and a black dress; they dance together quite sexually, but “this is not weird”, he tells us, “since we’re a gypsy family.”

Most memorable is the duet “that me and my partner do”. Performed at Morrison’s self-service check-out, this example of real life choreography is designed to save money by swapping expensive items for cheap ones that weigh the same.

Hughes’ contributions are intimate, impassioned and uplifting. We listen to “the best dance track ever” – Funkin’ for Jamaica by Tom Brown – while she dances in her chair. A fan of the TV programme Seaside Special which preceded Strictly , she imagines she can tap dance and does a pretty good job of faking it, then dreams of being a celebrity singer. “I like Shirley Bassey’s arms and Barbra Streisand’s hands. Diana Ross has amazing phrasing and Ella Fitzgerald blinks a lot, but I’d like to be Gladys Knight,” she says, and sings along rather well to You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.

Finally recounting how she fell for a gorgeous man with hazel eyes who turned her down, she joins Lauryn Hill in singing No-one Loves You More Than Me, and describes her impassioned rendition as a cathartic form of “wallowing in the hurt”.

Over the past year, the trio has shared 1,364 dance memories with audiences around the country and we witness 39 stories unfold. These are not the best dancers you will ever see, nor the best singers and story tellers you will ever hear, but their courage in dredging up these recollections makes for a heart warming encounter.

Wallflower is not a performance so much as an invitation to contemplate the important role played by music and dance in our lives. During the last dance, the floor remains empty while a glitter ball beams dizzying patterns onto every surface as Al Green sings Lay your head on my pillow, make believe you love me one more time. It’s an invitation to remember all the floors you have spun across over the years and to recall once again the seduction of those moments that seemed so full of potential.

Part of Dance Umbrella 2016

Best known as an art critic, Sarah Kent began writing about dance for The Arts Desk in 2012, only stopping when she was invited to serve on the dance panel of the Olivier Awards. A keen dancer herself, she brings a fresh perspective to the role of commentator.

Photos: Simon Banham

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