Review: Questions and Dancers - Levantes Dance Theatre / Shuffle - Lilian Baylis Studio

Performance: 19 February 2013
Reviewed by Jeffrey Gordon Baker - Friday 15 February 2013

Imogen Knight 'OMG!' Photo: Manuel Vason

On Saturday afternoon I went with my seven year old friend to see Questions and Dancers, the cleverly titled triple bill for kids at the Lillian Baylis Studio. The afternoon’s programme comprised of two works commissioned from winners of the Choreography for Children Award and a ‘pre-show performance’ by ShuffleThe Place’s junior dance company (aged 9 – 14 years). The performances were bookended by Q&A sessions for the choreographers and dancers, with The Place’s Creative Teaching and Learning Project Officer Peter Laycock passing the microphone and expertly guiding the discussion. Not only an educational experience for the young audience, the afternoon was also from beginning to end, a worthwhile sampling of quality dance theatre.

Every bit as sweet and entertaining as the professional works, the Shuffle piece was choreographed by the company’s Artistic Director Katie Cambridge and based on the poem Whatif by Shel Silverstein, in which childhood fears in the form of ‘whatifs’ creep into the narrator’s ear at bedtime. ‘Whatif I’m struck by lightning?‘ ‘Whatif I get sick and die?’ and most importantly, ‘Whatif I never learn to dance?!‘ These kiddos have already a gone a fair distance toward taming that most relevant of whatifs. The young shufflers danced with pluck and poise a playful slumber party of sleepytime gestures (eye rubs and yawns), rolls, hops and claps to scare the nighttime monsters away. Staying close to the floor, they clumped together cosily, shivered and wiggled in fright, and spoke the lines of the poem with loud clear voices. I’m really looking forward to what this youth company presents next.

Duck Man: A story about George and his Grandfather, was also a dreamy treat of fanciful imaginings, this time on the open sea and under water. The cast of final year student dancers from London Contemporary Dance School were an oddball household; a mother in curlers, a doddering uncle, the furry and mischievous family hedgehog. They sat for a quirky group portrait in one of the first images, then dispersed to undulate and drift whimsically, forming a living ocean of waves upon which our hero sets sail in a bathtub.

Doubling as a family and a coterie of sea creatures, the cast were playfully proficient in a battery of partnered rolls, three-person crab walks, waterfowl waddles and other lively floor-based acrobatics evoking marine life. Choreographed and designed by Eleni Edipidi and Bethanie Harrison of Levantes Dance Theatre, Duck Man was a picture book fantasy come to life – sort of like children’s classics Make way for Ducklings meets Where the Wild Things Are, a delightful journey through a make believe magic years sensibility. A rub a dub dub, bouncy and bubbling melody by Honeyfeet, and shadow puppet animated projections by Adam York Gregory, seamlessly complemented the physical storytelling of this enchanting piece.

Imogen Knight’s OMG! was appropriately placed in the final slot, as the clever design by Chloe Lamford, Associate Designer Cecilia Carey and Lighting Designer Jackie Shemesh located us squarely within the institutional conformity of secondary school, with red plastic chairs, neon tube lighting and a cast of classmates in grey hoody tracksuits as though kitted out for P.E. class. As is often the case in the socially challenging world of pre-adolescence, one girl stood out from the crowd. Afric Ni Chaoimh dressed differently in bright pink and blue, struggled to speak up and find friends as her fellows jostled and pushed in the queue, divided into cliques and waved their hands frantically to be called upon in answering quiz questions.

OMG! was my young companion’s favourite piece – as children will often be fascinated by the antics of their bigger brothers and sisters – and he and the other kids in the audience giggled as Anna-Kay Gayle rode a tricycle a few sizes too small for her long legs, squeakily pedalling around the stage with her knees up under her chin. This was a simple and moving metaphor for the awkwardness of growing up. Similarly when the grey tracksuits were stripped off to reveal neon leggings and wackily patterned tops, and the cast went wild in a liberating, shouty rock-out, Knight was clearly indicating the rewards of self-discovery that can be found as childhood daydreams become adult realities.
More about Shuffle

The Choreography for Children Award (CfC) was set up in 2010 by Sadler’s Wells, Company of Angels and The Place to support new dance and movement-led work made especially for young audiences.

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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