Performance: 9 October 2015
Reviewed by Sarah Kent - Monday 12 October 2015

Robin Dingemans & Nick Bryson - 'The Point at Which it Last Made Sense' Photo: Bettina Strenske

When a dancer leaves a production, they are usually replaced by someone who quickly learns the choreography and seamlessly blends in. But The Point At Which It Last Made Sense is no ordinary production; it was devised in conjunction with dancers Rosa Vreeling and James O’Shea, a paralympian with no legs. So when both performers bowed out a few months ago, choreographers Robin Dingemans and Nick Bryson had the task not only of finding new dancers but of substantially rethinking the piece so as to acknowledge the new participants and maximise their potential.

Marlieke Burghouts is tall, slim, athletic and androgynous; at first I was unsure if she was male or female and gender fluidity is a subject she explores in her own piece S/he. Wheelchair user Michael Turinsky is housed in a body that makes self-expression difficult. Academically trained as a philosopher, he can only speak slowly and slurs his words. His body is similarly hard to command; he moves slowly and with jerky uncertainty.

As the audience files in, Turinsky sits centre stage, watching us; he looks nonchalant, but his hands are clasped behind his head for practical reasons – to keep them still. Meanwhile on a large screen, he appears looking beautiful and enunciating the words “cannelloni, spaghetti bolognese, ravioli, gnocchi con gorgonzola and cigarettes.” Beside him is a shop window dummy with no legs; perhaps its a tribute to O’Shea whose place he has taken.

Nick Bryson comes in and auctions off a packet of crummy popcorn for the sum of £29. This absurdist transaction sets the tone of wryly ironic humour that inflects the whole of this rather moving evening. A discussion about beauty follows – its meaning, representation and usage – which the performance then subverts in every detail.

When Burghouts walks in, her calmness immediately becomes apparent in relation to Turinsky’s involuntary movements. She also appears on screen looking beautiful while, in the flesh, she adopts various manly poses and mimes the words of an ad spoken by a silky male voice. “My work/life balance is important”, s/he intones. So when it comes to having my shave I need something reliable… a look that works.” Sitting on the floor legs splayed like a bloke, she is joined by Turinsky who slides out of his wheel chair and kneels opposite her. In the ensuing duet, Burghouts imitates his movements and soon one begins to perceive his staccato awkwardness as the norm – a prime example of expressive dancing.

What follows is a complex, very moving and often quite rough interplay between able and disabled bodies. At one point, Bryson drags Turinsky onto the stage by his arms and dumps him face down, like a sack of potatoes, beside Burghouts. The indignity he suffers is paralleled for Burghouts by the idiocy of the slogans she is made to parrot (and we are meant to swallow in real life). “My work/life balance is important. With having such a busy lifestyle I’m always on the go. But sometimes I need to unwind with Golden Rush coffee. That’s when my time becomes special.”

Stark contrasts are established between the onstage actuality of “imperfect” but real bodies and the saccharine fantasies of the advertising moguls who frequently use “perfect” but airbrushed bodies to promote things we don’t need. However, with all their idiosyncrasies, the imperfect bodies are soon revealed to have their own strange, unorthodox and remarkable beauty.

There are moments of lunacy and of playful hedonism when, for instance, Burghouts climbs on Turinsky’s back and noisily sniffs his skin with evident relish. “What the heck are you doing?” he demands in dismay. Is it an end, or is it a beginning?

Clearly it is a beginning; for when Burghouts lies in Turinsky’s lap in a pose resembling a Pieta, we have no difficulty in acknowledging the iconic resonance of this coupling of disability and androgyny. What a joy it is to experience – in oneself – the demolition of the banal stereotypes foisted on us by advertising and reinforced daily by mainstream platitudes.

Best known as an art critic, Sarah Kent began writing about dance for The Arts Desk in 2012, only stopping recently 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: Bettina Strenske

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