What’s a “butterface”? The text on the backcloth spells it out: a woman whose body is sexy, but her face… Where those words trail off, trapeze artist Vee Smith steps in. She teases with below-the-waist nudity, upper body hidden behind burlesque feather fans, then emerges stark naked but definitely not bare-faced: a sackcloth, on which she plasters false eyelashes and smears a lipstick mouth, covers her whole head. Split body, split vision, and indeed the splits themselves – at least until she gaffertapes her legs into a debilitating mermaid’s tail – mark a performance that’s hard- hitting in attitude and imagery yet oddly underpowered on the trapeze itself. And yes, she does reveal her face in the end though not – of course – before covering it in butter.
There’s a lot of “stuff” in Elliot Minogue-Stone’s Sighs, Cries and Lies. The stage is littered with books, balloons, clothes, toys and trinkets, the soundtrack switches from loungey latin to classic jazz and reggae fusion, and the mood veers wildly as two women – Isabella Arboleda Tovar and Pauline Thuriot – variously recount their favourite things, bunny hop for fun, jockey for position, pose for imaginary photo opps or stagger and scrabble across the floor. There’s deeper stuff within this stuff – glimpses of mischief, desperation, patience and pleading – but the ragbag assortment and scrappy style make the result feel more clowny than revelatory.
This unusually circusy evening ended with an entertaining double act by Frederike Gerstner and Ben Nicholson. The Juggling of Science does exactly what it says: illustrates the internal orbits of atoms, the uncertainty principle applied to particles and the workings of the hydrogen fuel cell, all through the medium of juggling. Accompanied by an earnest, explanatory voiceover, lab-coated Gerstner and Nicholson lob coloured balls in the air (electrons in a state of excitation), juggle behind their backs (dark matter), or create a continuous circuit of balls (covalent bonds). The charm lies in the oddness of the idea and literalness of its execution. Schools should definitely book this act if they want more kids to become scientists – or jugglers.
A trapeze hangs over an austere set, a series of statements flashing up on the back wall telling us that this performance will not be “cruelty-free”. A nude figure out of burlesque striptease appears, hiding her face with feathers, before revealing herself as wearing a hemp sack over her head. She pointedly adorns the sack with lipstick and false eyelashes. Vendetta Vain’s trapeze-work then plays out against projections of misogynistic commentary: a forceful image of protest, though I would have liked to see the critique involved more intimately in the aerial movement, which at times becomes a platform for attitudes of defiance. In its closing moments, the effect Vain creates of falling in mid-air - of a body falling through its own joints and hinges - is striking and could have meant more.
Elliott Minogue-Stones’ Sighs, cries and lies stages an eccentric duet between two young female performers, one of whom distributes Valentine’s style love-tokens across the stage. What follows are restless, intermittently inspired dance- scenes, disinclined to resolve into any one tone. The performers begin like young girls imitating pop-videos, only to become disoriented, glitchy, fazed. Later, one repeatedly totters to the ground while the other, looking creatural, not fully born, unfurls across the floor as though being drawn by invisible threads. At such moments the show’s choreography feels like it is doing more than just indicating ideas about human development and socialisation: it’s undergoing and bearing them. Wonderful!
A world away in tone and intent, The Juggling of Science is framed as a public service broadcast, with performers in lab- coats using juggling to demonstrate some aspects of chemistry and physics, balls corresponding to atomic particles. Their evident skill at the form, with its intricate patterns and entropic falls into disarray, made me wish for a show in which they illustrated these fascinating things with less literalness, to match their lightness of touch.