Review: Touch Wood at The Place

Performance: 11 Sep - 6 Oct 07
Reviewed by Lindsey Clarke - Wednesday 12 September 2007

11 September 2007

Ajose Cutting Dance, BASE; Colin Poole, Joyride; Jim-Yeob Cha, Untitled duet; Zoi Dimitriou, Dromoi; Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company, Prologue

Touch Wood is being publicised as a showcase of new ideas and choreography either in development or having its first public outing. The whole concept of “touch wood”, underpinned by the actual stripped back wood floor of the auditorium and the naked dancers exposing themselves to scrutiny in the posters, suggest a daring and experimental season of new work. Some of it bound to fail but others hoping to shine through the mixed programmes with energy, innovation and challenging statements.

Opening night saw an outstanding yet undoubtedly challenging new work from Colin Poole. The “first draft” of solo *Joyride* is a confrontationally naked and seriously questioning piece. From the outset, Poole stares insolently at the audience as he methodically strips. His naked form transforms with the music and light. He prowls on all fours, lithe as a tiger, using his discarded clothes as stepping stones, taking them in his growling mouth. Then he’s a man again, addressing the audience. Questioning the difference between him and us, the dividing line between us. Questioning if, in fact, there is no difference between us. Suggesting, ominously, he knows what we’re thinking and dreaming. And he probably does. Some of us are definitely thinking I wish he’d put some clothes on so I can relax. But Poole’s not interested in his audience relaxing. He turns into a swan, bourrees around the stage with flapping masculine wings but straying into parody, Trocadero style, and all the time mouthing sinisterly. The contrast between the beauty of his body and movement with the spiky vocal poking of the audience is unnerving, let alone his continuing nudity. From swan to Spartacus, Poole runs dialogue from the film and moves, repeating sequences to the famous lines about slavery, injustice, solidarity culminating in him knotting his clothes together and mounting a chair to wave them – to rally or surrender? We’ll have to wait for part two. This is a seriously thought through work in progress that makes a deep impression, even at this stage.

It was a shame that Probe had to pull out due to illness but in their place was substituted the briefest of duets from Jin-Yeob Cha taking the repetitive gestures of being so wet and frantic you want to fling the damp from your fingers and turning them into a rather mad but delightful squatting progress across the floor beneath an umbrella. This capsule of an idea stands out effectively in miniature. A lesson Ajose Cutting Dance could take note of. Their quirky, breath- initiated and responsive opening moments with vocalist and dancer in conversation was beautiful but soon was lost, mired in the overly long and increasingly derivative BASE.

Zoi Dimitriou set her scene walking backwards around the space, unfurling a microphone cord setting her own pace. “Dromoi” is the Greek word for roads and she tells a simple story of a man on an island forever walking its shore and looking for something. Her graceful but dark lit movements reflect the poignant tale but much of the latter text is lost competing with the effort of moving and speaking. Perhaps further iterations might trust the movement to speak for itself.

To end, a welcome shot of dynamism and pacy entertainment from Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company and the 7 minute ‘Prologue’ to 2004’s Transtep. It’s a mini showcase of what the Company’s best at – particularly its women; precise, expressive, strong and athletic dance with original choreography born in the place where classical Indian dance meets contemporary. However, it is difficult to see what this piece is doing on a bill of emerging ideas and works in progress.

The ethos of Touch Wood is unpredictability where “each night comes together at the last moment” and it seems, in this respect, the season will not disappoint. However, mixed bills of such diversity with some pieces still in their embryonic conceptual stages up against more well established, or less daring and innovative works will doubtless be challenging for audiences.

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