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Flash Review, 5-17: From Here to Maturity
In England, another Paradigm

By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2004 Josephine Leask

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LONDON -- In our Western consumer society, which places a premium on young, fit, toned bodies, what place is there for mature, ageing bodies? And in contemporary dance and ballet, where young, super-technical bodies are coveted, what are the roles for dancers over the age of forty? Precious few is the answer, which is why attending a dance concert by the professional company From Here to Maturity, whose performers' average age is 55, whose eldest dancer is 75, and whose youngest is 45 is such a rare treat.

From Here to Maturity, which performed in the Purcell Room April 27-28, was started in 2000 by ex-Rambert dancer Ann Dickie (age 58), who was keen to increase opportunities for older dancers beyond the usual walk-on "grannie or countess" part, as she put it, as well as to challenge audience perceptions that dance is only for young, virtuosic bodies. The company currently consists of seven dancers, most of whom have had distinguished careers as dancers in the Royal Ballet and Ballet Rambert (currently Rambert Dance Company) as well as in West End theater. Dickie is keen to recruit more, especially those in their 60s and 70s, but has found very few people in that age bracket confident or fit enough to volunteer.

Dickie also pointed out, in an April 17 interview with The Times of London, that putting together such a company is not without its challenges. Apart from having to confront the ageist prejudice of our society, and not wanting to make the work seem like a freak show or make fools of the performers, there are technical hitches such as illness, injury and hip replacements to contend with as well as bodies which have different levels of experience. As the 37-year-old guest choreographer Luca Silvestrini found, it was a challenge to work with older dancers as he had to respect the experience they had, as well as find movement that they would feel comfortable doing. He was never sure of all his performers' memories and of what they would actually perform onstage in "I Close My Eyes," but this 'uncertainty' kept the piece very much alive, and the combination of a sensitive choreographer and some incredible characters produced a rich and thought-provoking work. In spite of some difficulties, Silvestrini found the experience of working with the company both humbling and moving.

In addition to Silvestrini's piece, From Here to Maturity's Purcell program also included "Raft of Reason," a duet choreographed and performed by Matthew Hawkins with fellow ex-Royal Ballet dancer Jennifer Jackson. As two of the more junior members of the company, Hawkins (45) and Jackson (50), who last danced together more than 20 years ago, showed off their technical prowess and their still extremely able bodies. Everything about "Raft of Reason" was sophisticated, from the costumes to the exquisite accompaniment by pianist Lucy Wilson. Clad in the most glamorous costumes -- a black body-sculpting Basque with sequins, feathers and glittery head piece for Jackson, a black transparent cloak bedazzled with sparkles for Hawkins and a long satin 50s-style Hollywood ball gown for Wilson -- the three performed something you might have expected to see during a 'soiree' at a well to do Parisien salon. The choreography was stately and dignified but also had a droll and touching edge. Each dancer was very focused on his or her individual steps, but aware of each other, making contact at fleeting moments through a glance, by a helping hand or the brush of an arm. The power of the body's memory came through in the steady intelligent execution of the technique, and while the performers didn't perform showy leg turns or huge jumps, they delivered the history of their dancing careers combined with their intriguing personalities.

"I Close My Eyes" was very different, an expressive, witty and touching dance-theater work for five dancers which really tested the performers' theater as well as movement skills. The pivotal object around which the piece was constructed was a huge bed on wheels which contained trap doors and an iron frame that could be converted into gates. The whole bed could also be split in two and was used as a railway station, storm-tossed boat, a bridge and a stage. This is clever imaginative work is typical of Protein Dance's choreographer and performer Silvestrini, who really uses the memories and experience of the performers. Extracts from real lives are enacted on the versatile bed -- from births to deaths, to crimes of passion, coming of age, domestic fights, nightmares, adventures, accidents and celebrations. Spoken text, a kitsch soundtrack, quirky movement and seamless transitions from anecdote to anecdote make "I Close My Eyes" compelling viewing. In places it's very humorous and touching but never embarrassing or forced. All the performers have extremely individual characters and portray qualities which range from the melodramatic to the subversive, the seductive to the laid back. While some of the dancers' bodies clearly have suffered from the wars of injury and operation, they all perform within their means, cope brilliantly with the material they have been given and look good, again communicating so much more with their wise bodies than most younger, more technical dancers could with theirs.

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