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June 7, 2011 5:42 pm

Episode, The Place, London

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The Place, often held as the home of contemporary dance in the UK, kicks off its Spring Loaded season with a new piece by German choreographer Frauke Requardt. And if this commission is anything to go by, the meaning of The Place’s slogan – “where dance is going next” – is towards performance art rather than movement.

There are plenty of interesting elements in Episode, and the first 10 minutes firmly grab the eye and ear. The backdrop is a cabaret stage with an upright piano, electric guitar and gorgeously ruched curtain that rises and falls on the two musicians. To clanky piano chords, a trio of dancers in jeans, puffed-up bomber jackets and clown wigs perform a slick prologue of Tarantino-esque action.

They circle the stage like Space Invaders, grouping and separating; they chase and fight each other in cops ’n’ robbers style; they lob a stage “bomb” to and fro as if in an old Batman episode. It’s novel, energetic and engaging. Requardt moves her men like clockwork toys on a track, with open, bent legs, synchronised arms and chopping hands, while a surf rock guitar keeps up a menacing, retro thrum. It all promises good things.

Thereafter, the unravelling of this comic-book scenario falls curiously flat, as if Requardt is unsure whether to develop her ideas through dance or drama. In a domestic setting of armchair, packing cases and a moveable toilet, we see various characters: a couple who fight but never look at each other, a woman distracted by her mobile phone and another in snorkel and flippers who dives headfirst into the WC. We hear a full-scale row in German, a singer berating his own words and some rather nice group-sung samba. It seems to be about entrapment, disengagement, verbal diarrhoea and camp cabaret.

The imagery is often strong and the soundtrack compelling, but the recurrent themes are never fully explored, either emotionally or in terms of movement; as such they become mere motifs. The excellent lighting, by Chahine Yavroyan, and costumes, by Hannah Clark, cannot make up for the slimness of the choreography. Equally, as a piece of dance theatre it lacks any real punch. After a promising, original start, Episode falls between two stools; its irony is its undoing. Send in the clowns. 

 

The Place

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