Review: The Bo Diddlers – STUMP! - The Place

Performance: 3 & 4 October 2014
Reviewed by Lise Smith - Monday 6 October 2014

The Bo Diddlers. Photo: Pari Naderi

Performance reviewed: 3 October

The art of parody dance is a fine one, paying loving homage to a style or oeuvre with enough knowing winks to delight aficionados while keeping the humour broad enough to entertain a wider audience. While the approach is irreverent, the performances must be sharp and the technique rock-solid in order for the humour to work. Troupes spoofing classical dance ( Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo) and contemporary ( New Art Club ) have spent decades building up audiences with an appreciation for both dance and dance jokes; and now the traditional English folk form of Morris dancing has its own playful caricature in the form of the Bo Diddlers.

Led by former New Adventures principal Ewan Wardrop, the group boasts some cracking contemporary and classical dancers. Togged up in bells, baldrics and tatter-coats the Bo Diddlers at first appear like a conventional Morris side, but a few well-placed pirouettes and slides to the floor soon put paid to that impression. The opening number is a stick set called by Wardrop with nonsensical figures ( “Fray Bentos!” “Hammertime!” ) thrown into the mix, and sets the template for the rest of the evening with its lively energy and physical humour.

Comedy performance is often hard to describe without spoiling the joke, so I’ll mention just three highlights of the evening. Dominic North, tasked to recreate the first Google hit for “Morris dance solo” ends up performing a hip-winding, head-rolling lyrical jazz solo by young American dancer Genevieve Morris in his bells and weskit. It’s eye-wateringly funny, not least because North (perhaps best known for his National Dance Award-nominated portrayal of the Prince in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake) has a remarkable physical aptitude for the lyrical style and works his micro-short clad booty every bit as much as Ms Morris does in her original video.

There’s a repeated sequence in which three dancers cast their hankies to the side and drop to the floor, squirming like beached salmon with arms pinned to the sides and flipping to the side for a triumphant one-legged finale. The visual joke gets funnier each time it’s repeated, and is particularly delicious if you’re a Wim Vandekeybus fan. But possibly the evening’s greatest triumph goes to Wardrop himself, who performs a rapper sword dance, winding the sword over each shoulder and tapping a furious rhythm in his clogs, self-accompanied on harmonica. The audacity and exuberance of the performance is eye-popping.

Judging by the number of patrons humming along to some of the folk tunes used in the performance, and the prevalence of beards in the audience, the Bo Diddlers clearly attract a genuine folk audience as well as the more typical audience of dance-lovers and dancers-in-training The Place regularly draws in. Some of the audience were clearly enjoying the in-jokes connected to Morris performance and folkdance tradition; others were smiling and nodding at the contemporary references and twists; and just about everyone was laughing out loud at the sheer joyful energy of the show.

While the laughter is infectious (and left me with a crease in my face that lasted hours), if the Bo Diddlers have the capacity to bring new audiences into a contemporary dance venue like The Place, and to extend folk dance and music beyond its usual viewership, then they’re doing something very healthy for the dance world as a whole. Heartily recommended, with a handkerchief on top.

www.thebodiddlers.co.uk

Photos: Pari Naderi


Lise Smith is a dance manager and teacher who writes about dance for many publications, including londondance.com, Londonist, Dancetabs & Arts Professional.



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