Review

The Featherstonehaughs: Draw On The Sketchbooks of Egon Schiele

the_featherstonehaughs_draw

JJS

This piece is like pulling crazy faces in the mirror or doing the really bad dance that makes you feel super fucking badass (until somebody catches you). I love the unashamedness of Egon Schiele’s work and this piece. At times the Featherstonehaughs look like a boy band, at others like they are posing for a catalogue or slithering salamanders or super seedy, like the guy in the corner who you suspect is crazy and whose eye you do not want to catch or someone a bit shifty and anxious as hell about it. I like the presentation of the neurotic side of the male and the lack of rigidity in their portrayal of masculinity. It’s a relief from men in dance fighting to prove that they are still powerful, virile creatures despite pursuing such a girlie career as dancing. Get over yourselves. Thank you, Featherstonehaughs.

On one level it was very confrontational, but the dancers challenged the audience with what? A spasmodic jerk of the head timed with the clash of a cymbal? Brilliant. This blend of seriousness and absurdity seemed to acknowledge the impotence and silence of dance and in doing that managed to harness the power that the dancing body does have.

Section followed section and it did feel a bit relentless, but I could have watched this all day. I loved the music, its volume, the thick atmosphere it created and the way that it seemed to possess the dancers’ bodies. Let me say again, I really loved the music, it was comforting and surprising and intricate and calming… it had as many layers as the choreography.

The lighting was great – florescent strip lights arranged in a square on the floor that the dancers had to constantly negotiate in their stepping sequences. I love stepping and a lot of the choreography was of steps. They made walking seem like a bloody witty thing to be doing.

The lighting changes were well-timed and lit the dancers from different angles making them seem at times grotesque, elegant and menacing, drawing me in and then letting me relax. It was really nice when the lights went out and you could only see the outlines of the suited figures with their hair in different stages of spikiness (due to the sweat and movement having disrupted it) and sticking up at different angles.

(I don’t really want to talk about the body suits with bulbous red willies painted over the guy’s packages but they do deserve a mention)

Maybe not so ‘out there’ as it might have been twelve years ago but whatever! Lea Anderson’s keeping it real and a bit queer. I well liked it.

 

LM

"The Featherstonehaughs were formed in 1988 and were then the only all-male dance company in Britain" it says in the programme notes. We're now twenty-two years later, and I feel like they more or less still are – the only all-male dance company in Britain. Watching Lea Anderson's six 'sons' made me really appreciate the way a tall (four out of six, the two Asian guys were, I guess, normal in height), lean, young man in big shoes and a colourful suit, moves his limbs, steps over fluorescent lights laid out on the ground forming one big square, or makes himself small or big or fixes his hands and fingers and body in that obvious Egon Schiele manner. They were dancing. Posing. Not performing tricks, which they supposedly can only do because they're men, no none of that. It was men dancing, not showing off. Ah, relief. Pleasure. I'm feeling bored with watching only boys lifting girls (or girls lifting boys for tokenistic reasons), or boys flying from one side of the space to the other – boys being 'boys', as they're so often asked to be. Yes, this was a different breed. Anderson's breed. And still a very unique one.

The two Asian guys. I wondered about them. They seemed to do everything together. What was Anderson trying to say with this? I mean, the erotic duet on the mattress that started out as a trio? Did they just look good together? Same height, same hair, same ethnicity. Doubtful, this is more likely to be where Schiele and narcissism comes into the picture. (Lea, if you ever read this, let me know if duh! is what you're thinking)

It was a gig. A live music gig. A live dance gig. But where was the applause between the sets? The glass of red wine in my hand? The couch? Ugh, how very 'bourgeois' of me to request this, I know, but I felt even more so having to sit very straight in the auditorium, not really able to move my head to the music, chuckle (out loud), or enjoy a drink simultaneously. Yes, I could have just done that, but it would have made me feel very self-conscious, as opposed to everyone doing it – so that I wouldn't be the 'eccentric' odd one out. I prefer when Anderson presents her work in more pub like settings, it's just, otherwise, a strange setup. Detached.

I like when I'm given the space to both concentrate and let go. I think it's a healthy way of digesting. But I have to say, I thought the music was monotonous – unchanging and possibly a little boring to listen to (I also have to say, I was the only one in my group of people to think this, and that I really did find both the music and dance very exciting in the trio that came after the foxy scene with the mattresses – one I'm possibly avoiding in this review, however, I keep referring to it!). Where was I? Ah, the music and too much letting go. I didn't realise that in fact it was the complete opposite; a friend later told me about all the rhythm changes that constantly had been going on, and that the music would have been difficult to count for the dancers. Did I try to count it myself? Admittedly, no. And I think it shouldn't, but this information does influence my perception of the performance; if it's that complex, surely it deserves my appreciation? This is always the fecking question.

 

'Draw On The Sketchbooks of Egon Schiele' by Lea Anderson/The Featherstonehaughs, 6, 8 – 10 November 2010, The Place, London

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