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More Flash Reviews
Review, 5-12: Boys will be Homo-erotic
Slip Slidin' Away with Earthfall
Copyright 2006 Josephine Leask
LONDON -- As I enter
the normally hot theater at the Place on a warm evening (this past
Wednesday), the sound of dripping water and a pleasant coolness
emanates from the stage situated below the audience, on which has
been built a huge water installation for the Welsh company Earthfall's
very aquatic production "At Swim, Two Boys." It consists of a large
wall of corrugated iron, down which water cascades onto a smaller
surface, essentially a watery, half-foot deep paddling pool of a
small stage installed on the larger stage. An impressive multipurpose
structure, the wall also serves as a film screen and a climbing
frame for the dancers.
"At Swim, Two Boys"
looks like it's going to be a slick piece of dance theater; an impressive
sound score played by two live musicians, Roger Mills and Frank
Naughton, adrenalin pumping and athletically virtuosic choreography
performed by outstanding dancers, Terry Michael and Stuart Bowden,
and a strong visual setting are strong, striking components in the
work. The piece is loosely based on Jamie O'Neill's novel, "At Swim,
Two Boys," which concerns the growing love between two teenage boys,
set against the backdrop of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland --
in the news again this year on its 80th anniversary -- and the developing
war in Europe. The Easter Rising, a revolt conducted by a few Republicans
and Sinn Fein partisans against British rule, resulted in a ridiculous
loss of life, as did the ensuing first World War. Rather than pursue
overtly political themes, this dance piece aims to expose the covert
ramifications of love between two opposing factions, in this case
the love between a Catholic and a Protestant. While the Easter Rising
and the war are suggested by some film footage of both and the odd
bit of spoken text in the sound track, what is really explored is
the relationship between the boys, much of which happens on their
swimming adventures on the Irish coast.
And boy, is the result
one huge wet homo-erotic experience! Once this is established, none
of the other thematic strands are really pursued in any detail.
It is a feast for gay male eyes: two boys at their sexual peak,
water, dripping clinging clothes, testosterone fueled movements,
guns, urgent thrusting body contact, and loud, pounding thrash music.
Although some of the
potentially more interesting material is not explored, the performers
nevertheless are amazing to watch on their watery stage. All their
movements -- rolling, sliding, jumping, lifts -- are conducted in
about a foot of water, so they have the added weight and discomfort
of drenched clothes and shoes, plus a nerve-rackingly slippery surface
to negotiate. They are both so on top of the physically demanding,
risk-taking choreography, that it makes you forget how difficult
it must be to perform in water.
It is clever, too, how
the performers manage to translate through dynamics and gesture
the explosive hormones of teenage boys, the tentativeness, the holding
back and then the clumsy letting go, as they skillfully develop
their relationship and act out their nervous mutual passions. While
there is very little stillness within the work, there are subtler,
more sensitive moments, including a section in which the dancers
strip down to underpants to suggest a swimming adventure, after
which they sit peacefully beside each other and reflectively look
out to sea. This is one of the more touching and meaningful breaks,
as afterwards the piece returns to thrash and crash and a rather
cliched finale, in which the boy turned soldier is shot by his Catholic
I can understand why
"At Swim, Two Boys" is an award-winning physical theater piece as
it is arresting and impact making, but I feel that the potential
within the work is just not milked and various themes are not explored
with enough integrity and texture. While the movement is sensational,
we have seen it all before in the early work of DV8 Physical Theatre
and in the 'Euro crash' of Belgian choreographer Wim Vandekeybus.