There is something particularly irritating about adults pretending to be children in performance. Galumphing around the stage, feigning shock and awe on discovering their bodies miraculously able to replicate the tricks of an adult’s, Strung Out suffered from this faux-naïve affliction. The two performers displayed some astonishing high-altitude rope acrobatics, but this, what should have been the piece’s focus, was drowned out by a meandering story involving sequined fish puppets, an enormous ball of string, some childish, clumsy ambling, and a ringing tinnitus from the cacophony of incidental music.
Heading back into the theatre after the requisite interval, I was ready to be dazzled, and Cai Tomos’ Describing Piece was just the ticket. Tomos stands with his back to us as a film trailer voiceover booms over the darkness, describing the dance with satiric gravitas. ‘Something meaningful is about to happen’ the voice intones, as Tomos peeks over his shoulder to catch a glimpse of the crowd, and his Mum. In fact, the show is based on a conversation with his mother, relayed to us via the trailer voice: ‘I don’t understand dance’, Mum says. ‘Mum, there is nothing to understand’, replies Tomos. Later, over much vocal hilarity from the audience and the soaring strains of Vivaldi, Tomos stares and reaches into the distance, while the voiceover explains the movement’s possible interpretations: ‘Arguing with God / Taking down a duvet because a friend is staying’. Performed to perfection, Describing Piece lit up the stage, completely captivating the tickled audience.
Last, an LSD-infused kitchen disco duet, the third person optional, wheeled an incongruous cactus prop across the stage. An atmosphere of robotic, electric surrealism reigned over the dancers who, with deadpan expressions, jerked and sidled their bodies through this tightly rehearsed piece. Parodically iterating a history of pop club moves, there was something of the Michael Clark in their thumbs-up gestures and balletic Irish jigs, creating a joyful end to the night.
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve tried to convince dance non-believers that you don’t have to ‘understand’ dance in order to enjoy it. Now all I have to do is direct them to Cai Tomos’s Describing Piece, a video of which should be available in the foyer of every dance theatre. Former Earthfall performer Tomos’s solo, acutely observed and very, very funny, deconstructs every dance cliché in the book, from meaningful looks at the audience to running in circles shirtless, laying bare the tricks designed to make dance look deep and meaningful. As Vivaldi’s Four Seasons ebbed and flowed, a voiceover put the charismatic Tomos through this paces, offering a beginner’s guide to dance gestures: raising his arms to the sky, Tomos could be angry with God. On the other hand he could be flying a kite. Dedicated to Tomos’s Mum (who doesn’t understand dance), Describing Piece is a mini-masterpiece that sidesteps cheap mockery and springs from a deep affection for Tomos’s chosen art-form. ‘Sometimes,’ he confides, ‘Being alive is about dancing.’
Looking like habitués at Andy Warhol’s Factory, Michael Kitchin and Eve Stainton created a cool slice of retro entertainment, complete with scene-stealing cactus, in Third Person Optional. The stylish duo, from the Hurts school of cheekbone chic, threw intense shapes to rock songs with tongues firmly in their most striking feature. They were flirting with ideas of what it is to be normal, but they were mostly memorable for their slick syncopated hand-jive to the moody wash of The Doors’ Riders On The Storm.
Competing with such sophisticated wit, Maisie Whiteheads Strung Out came off as a little cartoonish. Whitehead and partner Rachel Entwhistle showed some impressive aerial skills, bringing a light touch to their rope tricks. But the over-egged floorbound sections flagged, the duo taking an age ambling across stage with a fish bowl and a ball of rope. It was far too strung out.