Review: Yael Flexer and Nic Sandiland in The Living Room at The Place & touring

Performance: 8 & 9 March 2010
Reviewed by Lise Smith - Wednesday 10 March 2010

Yael Flexer & Nic Sandiland, 'The Living Room' Photo: Chris Nash. 8-9 March, The Place

Reviewed: 8 March

It’s a game, it’s a rehearsal, it’s an improvisation, it’s all about furniture – Yael Flexer’s The Living Room is a multi-layered and multi-textured piece. Sometimes playful and sometimes intense, the work uses furniture-based movement games to expose the processes of dancemaking and the lives of the dancers that inhabit the room.

We begin with a stripped-bare stage (“as you can see, the furniture hasn’t quite arrived” apologises Flexer) and a series of task instructions. Six dancers, clad in functional khaki and black, gamely volunteer to imitate domestic items – “I’ll be the sofa!” – and each in turn occupies a space in the living room with a sofa-like series of flicks and scoops. Some of the dancers are less willing than others – one petulantly refuses to be the TV, preferring to be the bookcase. The players all use repeated verbal formulae to thank each other as they take each other’s places in the game. It’s all very charming, all very cordial – certainly more fun than a trip to IKEA.

Petty squabbles over whose turn it is to be the reading light and whose solo this actually is hint at competition between the performers beneath the formulaic cordiality. The grand game of assorted musical furniture turns into a race for space, function and identity: at times the dancers push and pull one another into the space with marked aggression, reaching and falling more urgently.

The six performers – five female and one “token” (says Flexer) male – are all very capable, committing fully to the playfulness of some scenes and the charged attack of others. There’s a good sense of authentic character, each of the dancers playing a version of themselves that exists in the rehearsal space, the dancer’s own “living room”. Flexer’s sensitivity to the live musical accompaniment is also excellent, picking up the rhythmical intricacies of the score.

The music itself, performed live on cello by Karni Postel, provides an atmospheric accompaniment to the piece’s changing moods: now tender in a roll of one dancer up another’s arm, or in the liquid duet where Lyndsey McConville and Aneta Szydlak shift and carry each other, remaining attached throughout; now more forceful and aggressive with dancers pushing one another away or hurling themselves to the ground.

The spoken text accompanying the work is warm, witty and inviting, if occasionally over-long. Flexer wears her “manifesto” for the piece openly, addressing the audience directly for sections of the work. These moments are often funny and honest, drawing the lives of the performers into the open through a series of hand-raising confessions. The manifesto sections, however, raise an interesting tension between the unaffected authenticity that the work seeks, and the stylised naturalism that is its actual presentation.

Outside of Flexer’s monologues the text worked more naturally, particularly when coupled with movement. A recurring theme was a performer declaring what was about to happen – “There will be much rolling and sliding on the floor”, “I’ll touch the floor”, “I’m circling my hip” – with accompanying actions. These later became more general statements about the dancer’s future life and future self – “I’ll knit a sweater”, “I’m going to Las Vegas”. The seamless transition between the two emphasised the continuity between dancers-as-people and dancers-as-performers, and that simple presentation brought The Living Room‘s deconstruction of performance processes back to a very human level.

The piece’s clever structure winds through moments of ensemble unison, a scattering of limbs as one dancer thrusts her arms towards the other bodies, and duets emerging from contrasting phrases. That unison is occasionally rough around the edges, with the ensemble work sometimes having a ragged feel, but that roughness adds to the authentic feel of the work, vitality and energy coming from the stage as dancers attack their phrases.

The Living Room is witty without being contrived, sweet without being cloying, and clever without being po-faced. It’s about life, dance and furniture, or perhaps dance as the furniture of life – and with such an eloquent danced manifesto to support it, this furniture gets my vote.

Nic Sandiland’s digital installation Orbital was also on show in the Founders Room at The Place

*_The Living Room_*is touring throughout Spring and Autumn 2010.
More details www.yaelflexer.com

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