4 December 2011

Edits by The Featherstonehaughs

An opportune visit to the South Bank Centre around eight years ago introduced me to the dancing delights of The Cholmondeleys and The Featherstonehaughs and left a lasting impression of what modern dance can do.

And I do not mean the sort of dancing that you see on Strictly or X-Factor. I mean dance that stretches the mind in unusual directions.

Sadly Featherstonehaughs have called it a day and I was there for their very last performance at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, a venue I find myself returning to with some regularity.

The show they presented was Edits, based on the drawings of Egon Schiele.

Though, to be honest, I know little about how dance is constructed and I am sure that much of the meaning and intention passes me by. I have to content myself with the movement and the music. That's usually enough, and so it proved here.

The artist's theme was clear from the dark stage with the only props being three hanging frames that were reflected on the floor.

This created six separate areas of dance with the dancers moving almost invisibly between them.

The music was equally Spartan. It was reassuringly repetitive throughout and varied between three different moods.

The most musical sections featured a guitar and saxophone but for most of the time we were left to harsh electronics. Some of this sounded like an old vinyl album jumping at the end of the side and at other times it sounded like Concert Industriel Pour Metronome (title stolen from VladimĂ­r Hirsch).

I love minimalist industrial music but I appreciate that some do not. Their loss.

The dance matched the mood of the music. It was a succession of short pieces where just a few of the dancers were in one of the dance frames and your attention moved from one to the other.

The movements were bold, exaggerated and unnatural (as you can see from the poses in the pictures). The scene was painted across the whole stage and carried through to the smallest detail such as the movement of fingers.

The tableaus and costumes changed (the male dancers wore dresses all the time as they had the last time that I saw them) while the mood remained the same.

It had the flavour of mechanical but was always beautiful too.

Without an obvious simile to call on or a working knowledge of dance vocabulary I'm struggling a little to describe the experience and all I can do is describe how it impacted me.

I was entranced, mesmerised, immersed, captivated and enthralled. This was a very rich experience with so much to watch and to try and understand.

It was also hugely enjoyable and the best part of an hour and a half skipped by.

The show ended with a short piece by, presumably the founding members of The Cholmondeleys. This was slow and lyrical, rather like eating an ice cream after eating a curry. Not a bad end to the evening but the memory is of the main course.

It is good to see that dance can be difficult and challenging in the same way that theatre can be. This was an exceptionally good show. It is just a shame that it is all over.

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