Review: Spring Loaded - Amy Bell And Valentina Golfieri/Aoife Mcatamney/Gary Clarke - The Place

Performance: 17 May 2013
Reviewed by Lise Smith - Tuesday 21 May 2013

Amy Bell & Valentina Golfieri. Photo: Chris Nash

If it’s May, it must be Spring Loaded, The Place’s annual platform of new commissions from upcoming young choreographers. Friday’s triple bill wove together dance and dark comedy, gentle folksong and strident political activism as perhaps only The Place can.

Amy Bell and Valentina Golfieri first appeared on this stage as London Contemporary Dance School students, performing Luca Silvestri’s kitschy sauna-themed nostalgia-fest White Christmas in 2005. The pair returned in 2010, memorably shaking blue-sequinned hotpants in That Was the Time I Stopped. Eyecatching costumes are very much still a part of the duo’s work – I Just Close My Eyes: Here Are The Devils is performed in gold high heels and sky-high blonde beehive wigs – but in the service of a much darker-hued character piece.

The two are billed as “faded divas” and their high-maintenance glamour seems to come from another era; everything about the pair’s physicality screams that they are used to being the centre of attention, but the spotlight has clearly moved on elsewhere. An unplugged stick microphone seems to have a hypnotic pull on the pair; Bell goads her partner by dangling it in a provocatively phallic fashion from her undershorts; Golfieri reaches for it with alternating disgust and desperation.

The divas are stuck in an ugly state of co-dependency; as much as they continue to compete with one another with look-at-me poses, each recognises that attention can now come only from her rival. There’s something of mentor Lea Anderson’s dark humour to the piece; I Just Close My Eyes: Here Are The Devils is an absorbing and skilfully realised piece from these interesting young artists.

Softer Swells is an apt name for Aoife McAtamney’s short solo; it washes over the stage in a series of meandering wave-like ebbs and flows with McAtamney’s supple body curving through the air and undulating on the floor. The dancer’s porcelain face and black-cherry lips speak of Gallic roots, which are reinforced when she breaks into song – snatches of what sound like Chris Brown lyrics set to a ravishing Irish melody. It’s an odd combination and there’s little in either the words or the movement material that help the viewer get a handle on what’s going on; McAtamney is a likeable enough performer, but Softer Swells washed over me rather.

Gary Clarke’s Cameo Cookie is a vibrant, vigorous solo for Eleanor Perry, who portrays American entertainer and activist Anita Bryant. Bryant was a public figure throughout the 1960s and 1970s; not that we’d know it from her costume of Edwardian-style lace blouse and long tweed skirt. The clothing choices are suggestive: Bryant was also an outspoken critic of the emerging gay movement, and although she gained support from conservative communities in the US her views can be seen as outmoded against the contemporary background of growing civil rights.

Perry gives a powerful physical performance as the vociferous Bryant with strong mime sections and a great floor-stomping dance sequence to Bowie’s Suffragette City. Bryant’s commercial work for Coca Cola and Florida Citrus are combined on the soundtrack with audio clips of her often unpalatable public statements; her initially corn-and-candy wholesomeness whittled away over time by an increasingly hostile public attitude to the community she refers to as “the homosexuals”. Gradually Bryant’s public standing is eroded; she loses her music sales, her commercial contracts, and her marriage. We see Perry descend slowly into a hell of her own making, a hand rising limply from a red-lit stage to wave her limply goodbye to a public that increasingly views her as an outdated irrelevance.

Ironically, however, Bryant’s name lives on in the one place she feared most – as a cocktail named after her in protest. Cameo Cookie’s final sequence sees a disco version of Bryant, divested of her buttoned-up outerwear, shouldered by four young tanned men and dancing to Candi Staton. It’s a triumphant finish, not for Bryant as a historical figure but for the movement she fought so hard against. Clarke created the piece in 2011; with marriage equality back on the political agenda this week the historical issues explored by Cameo Cookie have particular resonance in the here and now.

Spring Loaded continues until 22 June

Lise Smith is a dance manager and teacher, as well as a regular contributor to, londonist & Arts Professional

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