Review: The Bridge - Millenium Bridge

Performance: 23 June 2012
Reviewed by Germaine Cheng - Monday 25 June 2012

Janine Harrington's 'The Bridge' - dancers Alice MacKenzie, Iris Chan, Rachel Gildea
Photo: Pari Naderi

I imagine it must take no more than five minutes to cross Millennium Bridge on a good day. However on this busy Saturday, it took me all of twenty minutes. There might of course be reason to believe I walk at snail’s pace, but I assure you I don’t!

Hearing Big Ben’s chimes in the distance as I step onto the bridge’s perforated steel surface, I am greeted by the sight of street vendors who permeate the air with the enticing aroma of caramel-coated roasted peanuts. Tourists dot the bridge, their camera lenses pointing outwards on either side to capture the magnificent views of London and the River Thames.

I strain my eyes for any sign of terpsichorean activity and soon, Janine Harrington’s The Bridge starts to unravel. Dancers line Millennium Bridge at intervals on either side, performing a sequence of movements individual to each one of them. Each time a member of the public passes in front of them, they vary the dynamics and spatial configuration of their movement phrases. They shunt, shuffle and shift, cheekily catching people’s eyes and following them as they cross the River.

Bookended by two of London’s most iconic buildings – St Paul’s Cathedral and Tate Modern, Millennium Bridge links the old and the new, the historical and the historic. Dance aims to waltz through that same metaphorical passage of time, and The Bridge extends a welcoming hand to people of any age. I can’t help but marvel at an elderly lady enthusiastically positioning herself in between performers, despite using a walking stick. She must be one cool grandmother! Eager to make the performers’ duet a trio, she interjects suitably, twisting her body to remarkable effect. Toddlers are unknowingly swept up into the action, mesmerized by the sculptural shapes that meet their curious eyes. They jig along – fists pumping and feet stamping – with an innocent abandonment that stops adults in their tracks and sends the corners of my mouth skyward.

My upright posture is a giveaway it seems, as I field several suspecting looks from passersby. Firmly keeping my hands in my pockets and resisting the urge to point my feet, I take in the hustle and bustle from various vantage points along the bridge. Closet dancers are unleashed as arms are raised overhead for valiant attempts at ballet’s famed fifth position and a teenage girl boldly leaps like she never knew she could. Twenty minutes is over before I know it, and the 45 performers casually walk off the Bridge, just like everyone else.

Sipping a latte in Tate Modern’s café – a welcome respite from the blustery afternoon, I recall one dancers’ tai chi stance and another’s spiralling torso and unwittingly form movement responses to each of them in my mind. An hour later, I emerge caffeine-charged and ready to boogie.

Patiently waiting to catch a glimpse of The Bridge from the South Bank, I see the performance begin just as a busker starts to tinker on two keyboards, providing atmospheric accompaniment to the dancing as it unfolds. It is a pity the music isn’t audible on the bridge. My hands are cold – they are not in my pockets anymore. As I engage in a brief, silent dialogue with the dancer opposite me, we seem to move in sync. Even our smiles mirror one another.

The Bridge’s 45 performers are a quiet, unobtrusive but captivating presence. There is an unhurried pace all across the bridge, atypical of a fast-moving, ever-changing city. The aforementioned camera lenses are now turned inwards to capture the moving poetry of the human body. The River Thames and its surrounding monuments are but a picturesque backdrop to the endorphin-releasing wonder that is dance.

The Bridge was developed through a BBC Performing Arts Fund Fellowship with Independent Dance for Big Dance and Celebrate the City.

Germaine Cheng is a final year student at the Rambert School of Ballet & Contemporary Dance. She is taking part in English National Ballet’s Dance is the Word programme this summer and contributes regularly to

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