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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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