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Review, 10-21: Wapping Grimm
Fairy-tales in the Power Station from Maresa von Stockert
By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2004 Josephine Leask
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LONDON -- You can't
ask for much more in dance than wildly imaginative choreography
performed in a sensational venue. Wapping Hydraulic Power Station
in London's East End evokes awe. A power station until 1977, the
building has been converted into an emporium for the consumption
of visual art, theater, music, dance and food. With the original
machinery still in place and much of the space unchanged, it is
a challenging and inspirational place for dance performance, especially
dance which is adventurous and installation-based.
von Stockert, whose reputation and work has been flourishing recently
in London, was commissioned by Wapping director Jules Wright to
make a dance theater piece using the architecture of the building,
for a three-week engagement, September 13 - October 9. For an independent
choreographer such a length of time in a theater is almost unheard
of, but Wright in her inquisitive way wanted to see if there would
be an audience for this sort of work. With her discerning eye for
quality and unusual art and penchant for risk-taking, Wright hit
the mark. Von Stockart's "Grim[m] Desires," seen October 6, was
sold out for every night of its run.
"Grim[m] Desires" was
performed in the Power Station's Boiler House, a vast, damp, dark
cellar and a very uncompromising space with iron wrought pillars
and several smaller chambers leading off it. It is a cold and eerie
place and entirely appropriate for von Stockert's black but humorous
reinterpretation of a selection of the Brothers Grimm's famous fairy-tales.
Every recess is imaginatively used. Both the vertical and horizontal
axis of the walls are performed on by the dancers with the aid of
safety harnesses enabling them to walk down walls, glide along them
or suddenly spring up from the floor like in an aerial ballet. This
multi-dimensional surface adds a very magical flavor to the piece.
As we enter and take
our seats, which are generously equipped with blankets and hot water
bottles, it is like walking into a fairy-tale setting even before
anything happens. A light shining on some trees outside the windows
makes them seem impossibly green; we could be entering an enchanted
forest, or even the cellars of a giant's castle. Through the gloom,
some of the dancers can be seen perched on ledges high up in the
ceiling, attached to safety ropes. The sound of a pre-recorded voice
is heard, the narrator reading in a dry, sardonic fashion -- making
what he says seem even more captivating and extraordinary. The dancers
gradually descend or appear from all corners of the huge room, embodying
the various characters from the fairy-tales "The Frog King," "Snow
White," "Rapunzel," "Bluebeard" and "Cinderella." Through the narrative
and choreography each tale flows seamlessly into the next to become
one impressive story.
Von Stockert teases
out the twisted psychological subtexts of each original Grimm's
fairy-tale with an uncanny synthesis of wit, humor and irony. For
example, the Frog King ends up squashed against the wall, Rupunzel
suffers pathological problems as a result of having her hair cut
off, Snow White's Prince who comes to her rescue turns out to be
the murderer Bluebeard, and Cinderella's Prince develops a fetishistic
obsession with shoes and forgets about her. Some of the narrative
sounds like social commentary and the characters are portrayed as
if they belong to contemporary society. Snow White, Rapunzel and
Cinderella could be Diva celebrities from the descriptions of their
behavior, while the other characters show a range of other familiar
The movement is gaspingly
daring, violent at times, gestural, highly expressive and erotic.
Bodies are flung through
space, against walls, crumpled into fractured postures, suspended
upside down, or locked together in intense partner work. Six strong
performers with the stamina of oxen show no sign of fatigue, but
only the wear and tear of performing in a space which has hard stone
floors and brick walls. Their bumps and bruises merely add the final
touch to their gothic costuming.
Each story leaves us
with unforgettably disturbing images, body parts, movement or props.
We see the feet of Cinderella's ugly step-sisters appearing out
of the darkness through windows, dripping with blood from being
squeezed into tiny shoes. Snow White's wicked step-mother is forced
to dance to her death when she puts on a pair of red stiletto shoes,
the upside-down bodies of Bluebeard's wives are slowly lowered down
a wall and vast quantities of hair in Rapunzel's tale are thrown
aggressively round the room.
For me, and for many
others, "Grim[m] Desires" was the dance performance of the year.
Von Stockert has offered a highly original, gripping and stylish
work which has been laudably nurtured and supported by the Wapping
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