Words by Katie Hagan. Performed at the Laban Theatre.
Rosie Kay Dance Company’s Fantasia is pure dance, a stark contrast with Kay’s concept-driven work as seen in her critically-acclaimed 5 SOLDIERS. Watching work without a concept can sometimes be tricky for audience members who strive to find meaning in every body isolation and shift of weight to, naturally, embed themselves in what can be quite abstract choreography.
But sometimes dance out-wits the very best of us. When that happens we have to assume the role of blank canvas, and let ourselves be vulnerable to the choreography that will colour our minds.
Lights beam down onto three dancers, Shanelle Clemenson, Harriet Ellis and Carina Howard, wearing carnival-patterned tutus. Baroque music swells the Laban Theatre’s space. The mood is similar to Jose Limon’s Othello-inspired, darkly-set The Moor’s Pavane. Bordering on a court dance similar to Limon’s masterful piece, in Fantasia there are many gestures (an ode to the Baroque), statuesque positions and conservative forward-facing formations.
However, within this picture-perfect frame Kay intersperses some disruption: inverted turnouts, different placements of weight, and non-tutu-friendly positions.
These small subversions gradually manifest throughout Fantasia. The dancers break free from the unyielding grasp of form and venture forth into boundary-less, emotive dance. In Shanelle’s solo, she goes to a place where classical dancers fear to tread – down to the floor (it ruins the tutu) – and her hyper-extended arms reach higher than her peripheral vision. Her grounded spins are doused with half fouetté turns.
All three dancers accentuate their breathing in Fantasia. This might sound as if I am stating the obvious, but if one mandate in ballet was: ‘Thou shalt not breathe’, I am pretty sure it would be in the rule book. In Fantasia the breathing is natural, it is sometimes attuned to the music, and it is sometimes more exaggerated. A well-considered, human addition to the piece.
In Fantasia Kay wanted to explore the pleasurable effect dance has on the brain. From the audience’s perspective it was great to observe the dancers engaged in such a way. It was stimulating enough to witness the dancers move so cathartically. But whether or not that energy transferred to us, the audience, it is difficult to say.
It takes a well-bodied dance piece to sustain the audience’s intrigue, especially when the arms of a narrative are not there to catch you when you lose track of what you’re watching. Sometimes it is better to just dance, just feel the music – and exist in the moment – rather than watch it from the sidelines.
I was somewhat lost during the solo danced to Ralph Vaughan William’s ‘Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis’. Whilst I understand that movement doesn’t have to conform to the mood of classical music, the discordance here jarred at certain points.
The feverish choreography in this section worked, it was affective and rousing. Yet it sometimes boomeranged to nowhere. I really admired the energy; it was kind of like that ‘Billy Elliot tap-dance moment’, where he just wants to dance and break free.
The poignant part of this solo was when the dancer shaped her hands into what appeared to be a globe. This moment of tranquility was the perfect ointment and fit with all the cadences in Williams’ human music. However, there wasn’t enough of it. Amongst the sea of chaos, we needed more opportunity for calmness and reflection.