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Review 2, 7-27: Kool Down
Aletta Collins Cleanses London
Copyright 2005 Josephine Leask
LONDON -- Director and
choreographer Aletta Collins has made a flamboyant comeback with
the aptly named "Kool Down." Featuring 16 dancers and the Bollywood
Brass Band, the site-specific work, seen July 19, is one of the
highlights of a season of specially commissioned works at Somerset
House. Created for the spectacular Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court
at Somerset House, a magnificent former palace in central London,
"Kool Down" has its dancers and musicians interacting with the 55
fountains that spurt out of the ground like hot springs and are
synchronized to reach various levels and degrees of velocity. In
the summer the fountains are a major attraction for adult visitors
and children, partly because they look so aesthetically pleasing
but also because one is allowed to actually play in and around them.
Framed by the majestic 18th-century architecture of Somerset House,
they offer a refreshing oasis from the busy concrete jungle outside.
What Collins does particularly
well is create witty, relevant choreography that combines a tight
technique with gestures, social dance and pedestrian movements.
From her position as an established choreographer and dancer, Collins
has in recent years stepped aside from dance to direct theater and
opera, as well as taken the time to have two kids. Her experience
in directing theater and opera, often in large-scale productions,
rubs off in the way she can competently handle a large group of
dancers in a big open space. In "Kool Down" some of the strongest
dance sections are those in which the performers move in unison
through the forest of fountains, although Collins is skilled at
drawing out the individual personalities of her dancers as well
through solos and duets. Her troupe here is comprised of established
professionals and freshly graduated dance students, but they all
look equally good in this work, because the choreographer draws
on individual strengths as well as movement that works in a non-intimate
As the Fountain Courtyard
is visited by a wide range of people, from heat-dazed city workers
to exuberant children to foot-sore tourists, Collins comments on
their comings and goings. At the beginning of the performance we
see a man cycling through the fountains, a cleaner picking up rubbish
and a tourist wandering aimlessly through the fountains, only to
be shooed away by security staff for encroaching on the performance
arena. It takes a few moments before we realize that the performance
has begun and all these individuals and security staff are in fact
the dancers. This is a nice blurring of boundaries between performer
and spectator, a borderline explored throughout the piece. Gradually
the dancers are joined by others and accompanied by the impressive
Bollywood Brass Band, which in itself is a performance, walking
around playing a mixture of Bhangra rhythms, jazz and other dance
music. Europe's first Indian wedding band, Bollywood Brass made
its debut in 1992 at the International Festival of Street Music
and creates a suitably festive and cross-cultural atmosphere.
At times "Kool Down"
looks like a big wet street party as everyone gets soaked pretty
quickly. The water also inspires a striptease by a be-suited business
man, surfing stunts performed by beach boys and chorus line kicks
by bikini-clad girls. Costumes are suitably bright, summery and
flesh-revealing as layers are taken off for the different dance
numbers. The finale is marked by the arrival of several gaudy rickshaws
whose drivers cycle through the fountains, pick up the dancers and
ferry them away. Again Collins refers to something which has become
so much the part of central London's fabric, as well as extending
an Asian flavor to the work.
In a time of fear, mourning
and uncomfortable race relations, "Kool Down," in its brief duration
of 20 minutes, is an optimistic and humorous work which restores
one's faith in London as an embracing 'global village' and celebrates
this city for what it is famous for -- its diversity and idiosyncrasies.
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