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Flash Review 2, 8-18: Upstairs, Downtown
At the Royal Opera House, 10,000 Steps to the Attic, Every One of Them Worth it

By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2004 Josephine Leask

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LONDON -- This last program that I attended of Snagged and Clored, a platform for cutting edge contemporary British artists at the Royal Opera House and a mini-season which has been refreshingly unpredictable, offered another surprise in the form of 10,000 Steps. A duo of musician Steve Blake and dancer Maho Ihara, 10,000 Steps creates an alluring little sketch about a couple's nocturnal habits and obsessive nightmares. On stage at the August 5 performance, there is a cosy domestic installation of an arm chair, plant, rug, toy dog, a couple of banjos and a film screen. The first thing we hear is a voice-over of Blake talking about his wasp-plagued nightmares and how he has to wake up and watch TV to get over them. He also describes how his partner Ihara dances in her sleep. The piece is called "Mimizu," which we are told is Japanese for worm, and is based on a nightmare Ihara has had about a big pink worm chasing her. She recounts the limited but comical details of the dream in repetitive detail. It's silly stuff, but then nightmares often are.

The action begins when Blake blunders on stage in his pyjamas and seems surprised to see the audience. After talking about his wasp-plagued nightmares, he pads over to the living room set, draws an imaginary TV on the blank white screen and sits down to watch a variety of film footage, ranging from close-up interviews of Ihara discussing her nightmares to other nocturnal events. Ihara then dances on stage supposedly in her sleep while Blake watches the TV. Her sequences are sharp and quirky and, as explained in a program note, she takes a total of 10,000 steps during the whole performance.

With its understated performance style, the overall effect of "Mimizu" is droll and Blake and Ihara as performers are clever at communicating their petty personal paranoia in a riveting manner. There are some endearing moments, such as when Blake hangs a banjo around the supposedly comatose Ihara and gets her to strum repeatedly in accompaniment while he plays a merry toe-tapping melody on his banjo. Both performers are effortlessly skillful at what they do, and are also so at home on stage. "Mimizu" is an example of dance theater in which the dance and music just blend in fluidly with the other elements of the performance.

"Spirit Level," choreographed by Sarah Warsop of Snag, is a dance piece for three performers who each perform a solo to a complex sound score of treated Bach, arranged by Charles Kriel, which includes voice-over and fractured sound layered on top of the original score. Each solo seems to be based on a different emotion -- anger, sadness, fear -- and the dancers are convincing in their motivation and portrayal of these sentiments. However, while "Spirit Level" is a good contrast to "Mimizu," this act is very much the backup to the main stars of the evening.

While there have been variations in the quality of the work shown during the Snagged and Clored season -- as in most platforms -- that it has served the purpose of being a laboratory for the Royal Opera House has been an interesting idea and hopefully will lead to more creativity, collaboration and experimentation in the future. The only thing that niggles me though is the festival's marketing; most of the people who attend ballets on the main stage downstairs are oblivious to what goes on upstairs and I wonder whether contemporary dance is destined to being confined to the attic upstairs, like the nutty professor of dance. It's great for contemporary artists to perform in the heart of the dance establishment but not without its complications.

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