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Flash Review 2, 8-6: Modernizing the House
Brown, Snag Process the Royal Opera House

By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2004 Josephine Leask

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LONDON -- "Snagged and Clored," the second half of the Royal Opera House 2's Summer Collection '04 season, programs highly innovative UK contemporary dance artists and encourages artists to take risks. It is a surprising initiative for the ROH to take, as the performances take place within the bastion of high-brow ballet and seat of the dance establishment itself; even if they are relegated to the glorified 'attic' at the top of the building, the Clore Studio. It was amusing during the interval of this past weekend's show to be jostled by the crowd of balletomanes who had come to watch the Bolshoi ballet and see them rub shoulders with the decidedly more shabby, casual contemporary dance audience.

Carol Brown Dances featured choreographer, performer, and dance academic Carol Brown with two dancers and a pianist, all of whom were well aware of the ironies of performing experimental work in the Opera House. Brown's piece "Room" was a witty, savvy and risk-taking number which consisted of spoken text, dance, pre-recorded sound and a live piano. In an approach more similar in style to a workshop or a piece of performance art which invites the audience into its process, the dancers explained that they were showing a series of cuts, shortcuts, edits or extracts, playing on different meanings of the word 'cut.' These cuts added up to an investigation of being 'housed' in a studio within the Opera House and a remix of the evening-length "The Changing Room," premiered by the company earlier this year. Brown is known for highly analytical work which examines every aspect, historical, sociological, and political of the body through movement and, more recently, through new technologies. Working with a digital architect, she has been researching live and virtual spaces, and how to extend the dancer's body through real and virtual presence. For "Room," however, there was no technology and no virtual space, just a stripped-down set which consisted of some lecterns and an old box of lost property rehearsal clothes.

The questions posed by the dancers and the explanations given take one on a challenging matrix of enquiry, as many of these questions are ones that you would expect to be asked when working with complex technology and the fallible human body. References are made to the evening-length "Changing Room" and it helps if you have been fortunate enough to have seen this piece, but there are also references to the politics of the ROH, its various stars and the hierarchy within the building. At one point one of the dancers dons a grubby Royal Ballet tee-shirt pulled out from the lost property box. Brown's sentiment that contemporary dance artists are patronized by those within the ROH is hinted at in the covert gestural language and clever puns but this is very far from a cheap 'slagging off.' What is pleasing about "Room" is that the dancers talk and perform in a relaxed, open and conversational manner, so that even if you are lost by their profound utterances or by the tight knotty movement phrases, you feel warm towards these women and interested by everything they do. The score works extremely well also, with the electronic pre-recorded sounds of ambient noise playing off the live piano, adding more intriguing layers of meaning.

The company which followed, Snag, performed "Bye," choreographed by Sarah Warsop. This was a pure dance piece for four dancers and music and video mixed by DJ Charles Kriel. The performers are framed by a stunning backdrop of computer animated images created by Kriel which take us on a panoramic journey through skies, stars, electrical storms and earthquakes and impressive mountain ranges. The dancers, dressed in urban club-style white combat trousers and transparent tops, go through some rather nondescript but fluid movement phrases, always travelling from one side to the other. Their blank faces are suitable for the hyper cool style of the piece and the sophisticated ambient sound track, but their performance is more appropriate for club land than for a performance meant to engage an intimate studio theatre audience. The sound and visual environment is much more powerful than the choreography and while these are good dancers, they lack bite and energy.

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