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Flash Review 1, 11-7: Caveman
Something Quite Weird, but Wonderful from Laurie Booth

By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2003 Josephine Leask

LONDON -- Laurie Booth is a magician of improvisation and a choreographer whose presence is both commanding and familiar within the British contemporary dance world. He is a maverick with a refreshingly different attitude about choreography who has worked both inside and outside the dance establishment, creating performances that are fueled by his eclectic background in martial arts, contact improvisation, anthropology, contemporary dance, mythology and metaphysics.

After an absence of about seven years, it was good to see Booth back again at Dance Umbrella, performing his own solo, "Ice/Dreams/Fire," in collaboration with visual artist Thomas Richards and composer Nick Rothwell. Booth often takes unusual themes as a starting point for his improvisation and this piece was certainly more original than most. It was inspired by the elaborately tattooed bodies that were discovered by archaeologists in Siberia in the 1970s, perfectly preserved for 6000 years in the land's permafrost. Booth was particularly fascinated by the tattoos, which consisted of strange hybrids of animals arranged in dynamic shapes and movements; he even had replicas of them tattooed on his own body.

Booth's piece is a homage to 'our' frozen ancestors. The dominating visual feature in the work is Richards's ice sculptures, suspended over tin buckets at center stage, and which slowly and methodically drip throughout the duration of the performance. The ice, frozen into red-dyed shirts and packed into small boxes before the show, melts and pushes the material into all kinds of sinister shapes. As a result, the thawing ice takes on a life of its own as it evolves into many stunning and sinister red shapes resembling wizened flesh, fetuses, flowers and coral. Rothwell's electronic score creates an aural environment that is equally strange and powerful. He manipulates the dripping sound of the thawing ice through his computers and builds a score that both co-exists and integrates with the sculptures. At times, the sound builds with the force of modern beats like an overwhelming stage presence but retreats into whispering voices suggesting the echoes of previous civilizations.

Booth appears like a shaman or warlock in the shadows backstage, in dark glasses and carrying a stick. He responds to his environment totally sincerely and with a sense of steely purpose like a master of ceremony, thumping his stick in rhythms of ritual. With his piercing eyes, shaven head, tattooed muscular body and forceful stage presence he is both mesmerizing and menacing. His legs seem to fall away from under him as he twists and gyrates through his repertoire of improvised moves. Combined with visuals and sound, Booth leads us into the twilight of ancient times, picking up on the raw life force of ancient peoples made immortal by ice, embodying the energy from the tattoos.

Laurie Booth combines the muscular strength of an ox with the velvety softness of a puppy, qualities that have made his movement style remarkable; improvisation makes his choreography unpredictable and fresh. He surprises us constantly by jogging urgently on the spot, diving into an inverted balance on the floor, washing his face in the melted ice; his eccentricity prompts giggles from the audience. It is great to see this in a performer and however weird some of his actions are, one can feel the depth of connection he has both with the subject matter of this piece and with his collaborators.

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