As part of FRINGE, BELLYFLOP asked people from various backgrounds who have not contributed to BELLYFLOP before if they would be interested in responding to FRINGE on first-time, voluntary basis as a cheeky, luxurious embellishment to our festival. People have been generous. Here is a review by James Morgan of the works presented at Stratford Circus on Friday 18 October.
Radio Dance by Nadja Hjorton
Nadja Hjorton is not funky. She tells us this half way through her Radio Dance. I’m not sure I agree – to me she is certainly cool. She sits at a DJ table (desk? or booth? I don’t know what DJ’s sit at – clearly I am not cool). She is facing away from the audience, downstage of an empty white space and introduces herself as the presenter of this radio show.
She speaks calmly and weaves together personal and public histories, flitting between times, subjects and places. Politics, growing up, love, and dance (her background being contemporary jazz), are all up for discussion, through the lens of her song choices. Unlike most radio shows I do actually want her to carry on speaking: she has an endearing nonchalance, and humour isn’t forced.
She introduces the first track – ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ by Journey, and as she remains in her chair it’s quickly apparent that she will not be dancing to it. It doesn’t bother me, but I do find myself wondering why? I wonder if I am supposed to fill in the blanks with my imagination. Maybe she doesn’t like to dance to that song. I try to remember when I last danced to Journey. Probably when I was 18 in ‘Utopia’, a sweaty club in my hometown which seemed only to play this and Summer of ‘69, to a crowd of students and middle aged tourists from Bradford. I begin to think about how awkward social dancing could be – family events holding both hands with your mum, the school disco… nights out with ‘the lads’.
As the work progresses, the setlist confuses me a little. The subsequent songs are mostly an assortment of electro-pop-alternative stuff: possibly The Knife, and lots of current stuff I recognise but could not name. They seem to have little in connection to the story she has to tell, but I sense that she really enjoys this kind of music, and maybe that’s the point – it is her radio station.
She explains her disappointment that her way into dance was not interesting or dramatic or important enough. She does not feel the need to dance; it is a product of her background and was simply an ‘option’. There was no risk or eureka moment. For this reason she must dedicate the rest of the show to Isadora Duncan. This received a good laugh. We are treated to a sweeping ode to Duncan/contemporary jazz with a floaty white dress and long piece of fabric. The ironic delivery is interesting, but I miss the joy that I imagine she might have felt dancing this some other time.
Back to unfunkyness. She explains she was told to go to an afro-caribbean dance classes, to loosen up and become more grounded (more laughs), and proceeds to demonstrate. She stomps and sways and it doesn’t quite sit right in her body – and she knows it. I enjoy watching her negotiate this strange vocabulary, and empathise as a lanky, ‘uncool’ dancer. There is a lot to empathise with in this work.
Her uncertainty about dance, herself, and her place in history feels genuine and long-considered. I leave admiring her openness and thinking fondly of my own less-than-glamorous roots in dance.
A Lyrical Dance Concert by Gillie Kleiman and Sara Lindström
Since the first performance of the evening they have bling-ed up the space. Red velour tablecloths, not-so-fancy gold coasters and fairy lights tell me to relax, it’s a cabaret. The two enter soon after us and introduce themselves. They make an excellent double-act, Sara being the frantic, goofy energy to Gillie’s deadpan sarcasm. As I am writing now, I feel compelled to leave out the specifics – each word feels like a spoiler. I have no doubt they will perform this work elsewhere, and I’d rather you watched it than read this. However this is a review, so I will have to say something.
A playlist forms the structure for their show, with short skits devised to each song. To their opening number, River Deep, Mountain High, they mime the lyrics with a quick coolness reminiscent of a drag queens lip-syncing – though I guess you could instead call it body-syncing. Seriously, I’d love to see a drag queen body-sync.
Later they stroll into the audience holding cardboard signs saying “will dance for $”, and I pay two quid for a one-on-one boogy with Gillie under a big gold sheet (accompanied by Private Dancer by Tina Turner, of course). She seems chuffed and I immediately realise that I haven’t paid anything to be here. I question how I feel about Dance Umbrella’s Fringe performances being free. On one hand, yay for free stuff! On the other, why is this so inherently different from the other works which are apparently worth paying for?
Audience participation is key tonight, and we are quickly expected to sing along to a Britney song, to which they have provided new lyrics: “My Loneliness is killing me… Point point cross down, head shake back”. The punchlines are daft and clever in equal measure. Gillie and Sara are masters of deconstruction, reducing each well-known pop song to a single idea with its own logic and hilarious payoff.
The night ends with a group dance number, and the audience become backing dancers for Sara’s rendition of Arctic Monkeys’ ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor’. I always feel like this kind of audience involvement should be a disaster, but they have it covered. We know the moves – the air guitar, headbanger and fist pump. Gillie shouts out and we follow suit, feeling pretty amazing as we all dance together. I immediately remember those times when dancing in groups and someone ‘does a move’ and everyone follows suit – as well as those times when no-one copies and you feel silly and awkward. I feel happy not to be in that situation now: here everyone is in on it, and for that they are geniuses.
Gillie and Sara’s blurb in the programme insists that pop music belongs to us, and after this evening I am sure that dance belongs to us too.
James Morgan is a freelance choreographer, performer and writer. He recently graduated from London Contemporary Dance School, where he was a founding member and editor of the independent student publication ‘Garble’. He is interested in the antagonism between ‘high art’ and entertainment, and desires work which is both provocative and accessible.
With and by Nadja Hjörton
Light design: Chrisander Brun
Sound: Elize Arvefjord
Dramaturgy: Caroline Åberg
Radio dance is supported by the Swedish Arts Grants Committee
A Lyrical Dance Concert
Choreography, performance, production: Gillie Kleiman (UK) and Sara Lindström (SE)
Music: Tina Turner – River Deep Mountain High; Britney Spears – …Baby One More Time; Whitney Houston – I Will Always Love You; Mariah Carey – Touch My Body; Jay-Z – 99 Problems; The Platters – Only You; Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge over Troubled Water; Gloria Gaynor – I Will Survive; Tina Turner – Private Dancer; Bobby Vinton – Mr Lonely; Chaka Demus & Pliers – Tease Me; Bette Midler – Wind Beneath My Wings; Mariah Carey – Hero; Arctic Monkeys – I Bet You Look Good on the Dance floor
Additional design: Susie Green