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Review 2, 5-14: Fancy a pint, mate?
'Publife' with Protein Dance
By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2004 Josephine Leask
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LONDON -- British pub
culture is almost a thing of the past, certainly in London, where
the old style 'cockney' pub, frequented by working class locals
and associated with heavy drinking, quiz shows, football (or soccer)
and shabby stained carpets are being supplanted by up-market 'gastro'
pubs with their fine wines, pretentious food and clientele of professionals.
Protein Dance's site-specific work "Publife," which opened Tuesday
in a real authentic pub, O'Neill's, conjured up the best and the
worst of the traditional London pub, including chaotic salsa lessons,
darts, stripping, karaoke, trivia quizzes and, of course, televisions
screening football and the famous British soap opera, "Eastenders."
Choreographed and directed by Bettina Strickler and Luca Silvestrini,
who jointly set up Protein Dance in 1997 and who have gained a reputation
for really pushing the boundaries in dance with their blend of humor,
idiosyncratic movement, text, music and imaginative site-specific
work, "Publife" is brilliantly witty and hilariously accurate at
conveying its subject matter.
The atmosphere when
I walk into the pub is manic. The five performers, including Silvestrini
himself, are rushing around and it's not easy to separate them from
the ordinary people in the pub or the audience for that matter.
Silvestrini is the bar manager, pouring drinks and asking everyone
to sit down at tables and answer the written quizzes. For the performance,
the pub has been decorated with British nationalistic memorabilia,
such as a portrait of the Queen, English flags, and red, white and
blue streamers. It could be the Queen's Silver Jubilee all over
again. TV monitors blare out heightened dramatic moments of "Eastenders"
and football games and a DJ plays a raucous anthem of commercial
sing-along pop music. Suddenly several things happen at the same
time to herald the beginning of the performance. One of the performers,
a rowdy cockney lass, arrives clutching handfuls of shopping bags
and singing football songs. A man and woman play a game of darts,
with the woman holding the dart board in a variety of erotic positions
over her body; Silvestrini, as the camp Italian manager chats up
another guy; the fifth dancer flirts with the cockney lass, lewdly
slapping her bottom and creating shrill shrieks of excitement. The
five dancers are life-like characters and represent the colorful
stereotypes of people you might expect to find in a London pub.
The evening carries
on in this riotous mode, which increases as feelings become supposedly
more uninhibited through drink. The five characters start a salsa
class which spins way out of control until they are flinging each
other 'round the room in risky, tightly choreographed lifts while
a strip-tease for the two men ends abruptly with one of them running
away. Then there is the 'stiff' karaoke singer who is too wooden,
needs the other characters' input to make her more sexy and entertaining
and is manipulated into a kicking, grimacing robot; unable to stand
the humiliation, she flounces offstage. Everything is convincingly
performed but there is always a surprise, the choreography taking
us out of an everyday situation into a surreal one, such as the
karaoke act or the salsa lesson. Strickler and Silvestrini are particularly
good at taking a humdrum action or pedestrian movement and making
it into a virtuosic and bizarre statement. Each little act is peppered
with audience participation, as the patrons/spectators answer quiz
questions or respond to chatty asides from the performers, making
for intentional confusion over just who is a performer and who is
in the audience.
It is a wonderful scene
of chaos that is created, as the spectators look around, back and
forth trying to take in the riveting information which is bouncing
off all four pub walls. As with all site-specific work, Publife
breaks the normal viewing conventions; there is no one dominant
view in this work, although much of the action does take place around
a mini-stage at the front of the room. It's challenging for the
performers; some of their wildest movement sections take place in
the narrow space between the tables, and as they perform in such
a hyped, abandoned manner, a nasty accident seems imminent. But
it doesn't happen as these performers are pros at dealing with this
sort of high energy, interactive dance theater performed in restrictive
The final showdown comes
when 'last orders' (or 'last call') is announced and the performers
rush to the bar to load up with pints and pints of beer. An extraordinary
dance takes place in which pint glasses are balanced precariously
on body parts; the sequence spirals out of control, with drinks
spilling everywhere and drunken brawls breaking out. Everyone's
inebriated. The DJ blasts out some techno, and the macho lads take
off their shirts in true British football hooligan style and pogo
aggressively all over the room. Does this conjure up student parties
and pub crawls?
The Italian-born Silvestrini
and the Swiss-born Strickler use their canny 'outside' eyes to really
catch the essence of British pub behavior, which is why this piece
has been received so well in Europe and the US. Essentially, "Publife"
is a work which sends up traditional Britishness without being too
unkind in the process. The humor is fondly teasing rather than malicious,
but it is very British. "Publife" continues through tomorrow night
at O'Neill's, with performances beginning at 8 p.m.
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