Fig Leaf begins with one man cast in spotlight, the bass of Torben Lars Sylvest’s original track fuelling his muscular ticks. The guttural movement expands, now three men cavort and convulse, the intensity in their eyes easily matching the music. Joshua 'Vendetta' Nash skilfully sidesteps contrived narrative by keeping his feet firmly rooted in Krump, gesture and classically aggressive body language. As the trio move in unison- isolated and constricted- their pretence dissolves. It reveals their same battle: with the pressure to conform and remain externally hard, whilst feeling inwardly brittle or soft. There are few moments of pause and release, and the unrelenting pulsing and pounding underpinning the physicality of the piece effectively hold up a mirror to the toxic masculinity imposed on men today.
Neon Exodus is somewhat less contained. Monologues venturing on the history and appeal of Japanese anime accompany a couple independently spellbound by their TV screens. Everything is rosy as two dancers skip across the stage, but a darker side is hinted at as Marcus Alessandrini’s solo juxtaposes surprising athleticism with collapse and surrender. A relationship is established late on in the piece- and is cast in stark light, as the possibility of a more adult anime is introduced. Cohesive comment slips away with more unison and on-screen distraction, as any attempt at clarity fades into white noise.
The evening culminates with So Long, and Slender- a gloriously chaotic party hosted by Jessie Roberts-Smith and Luigi Nardone. From the outset any expectations are slashed, with two athletic naked bodies rushing to dress in wet look leotards between blackouts. A witty and self aware montage follows, depicting the drama and stereotypes perpetuating dance today. There is convivial conversation and enthusiastic audience participation. I’m invited on stage for a candlelit procession as we sing an adaptation of the Lord’s Prayer for Jonathan Burrows’ shrine. For the most part this is a slick, sparky and fantastically overzealous show, stumbling only over a couple of pacing issues. The duo push each sketch’s ridiculous and humorous nature to its maximum. They aptly close with a glitter cannon and jazz hands.
There’s a lot of krump about in theatre dance, and you can see why. It’s a high-impact and inherently dramatic style, its pumps and hits seeming to detonate inside the body while also being contained by it: a tinderbox of gagged emotions and tamped impulses. Joshua Nash’s Fig Leaf – for Nash, Jordan Douglas and Shangomola Edunjobi – uses this typically masculine style to explore masculinity itself, with much confrontational posturing over big bad basslines. Sometimes the armoury is loosened: two men lock arms in a moment of recognition, there’s some stiff, gentlemanish posing, and a lying-down krump sequence, as if they’d been literally knocked sideways. But even here, everything feels all about battle. It’s unremitting, and rather bludgeoning.
Neon Exodus opens with Jessica Walker and Marcus Alessandrini watching TV screens and making shapes while various voices explain their fandom with Japanese anime. They turn the TVs round and pop into a cartoonish duet of synchronised trots, hitches and zings as a montage of anime clips unrolls on screen. Later, they settle into a more contemplative mode, as if digging into their own feelings, or pondering time with their pendulum arms. Walker and Alessandrini have clearly thought about how to stage dance while screening anime; in practice, the surreal, garish and dramatic intensity of those small screen images pretty much overpowers everything else.
Contemporary dance is not often funny – but poking fun at it can be. Jessie Roberts-Smith and Luigi Nardone’s So Long, and Slender has sniggers and guffaws aplenty, setting lowbrow and commercial culture (drag, burlesque, jazz, MTV, panto) against the highbrow artistry of “contemporary choreography”. The figure of revered choreographer Jonathan Burrows serves as the fall guy: they set up a little shrine to him, and audience members get to read out random paragraphs from his seminal textbook, to much bewilderment and amusement. Roberts-Smith and Nardone are both rollickingly good dancers, and they have a good time with wigs, nudity, and interpretive dancing to music ranging from Béla Bartók to Bonnie Tyler. Whether you’re a dance insider or a layperson, it’s a hoot.