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Flash Review 2, 7-27: Kool Down
Aletta Collins Cleanses London

By Josephine Leask
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 context.

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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