Words by Maxine Flasher-Düzgüneş
A rainy Saturday at Rich Mix London’s split bill SMACK & Spektakel marked a witty journey back to the pre-teen era of Barbie Girl and even further to the neoclassical musings of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Preceding these works as a “curtain raiser” was a short piece created in the entirety of two hours by Angel Shed Dance Company, a company of movers of all ages and disciplines, and known as a space increasing youth access to the performing arts.
SMACK featured an outstanding female trio, each garbed in a quirky combo of pink and hightop trainers, who from the beginning assumed the role of technicians of an installation piece built for the proscenium. Its extended prologue felt like a bulleted list of chores: the dancers untangled projector wires, mounted a television, lightboard, and camcorder, and sealed neon duct tape around the space like task rabbits. Had the stage been flipped inside-out? This momentary transport into a choreographed mechanic’s shop felt like the antithesis to concert dance. And to re-kickoff the kitsch, a YouTube video of Barbie Girl looped on the monitor to the aestheticised play of the three dancers, flirting with the camera as if they were the plastic-y mannequins themselves. The haphazard yet meticulous mise-en-scène invited us into the backdrop of a movie set, the showiness spearheaded, and a sort of inner-self revealed.
SMACK was like this candy-wrapped Spice Girls mixtape, beautifully controlled from the inside – each dancer took a turn from behind-the-camera and then naturally, in front of it. At times, they bore doll-like impressions, in relentless synchronicity with the movement instructions that another dancer would que on the soundboard offstage. “Raise your right arm…look left…drop.” Like the music video, these instructions refrained at a later point, and with another dancer, but instead of that same string of obedience, we witnessed a rebellious messing with the sound score. This dancer played with our memory of what had happened before, and wildly went ahead of the instructions or moseyed about behind them, like a child trying to avoid the dinner table. It was the perfect anti-aesthetic, her mirror image livestreamed on the theatre scrim, a flippant if not purposefully ugly distortion of someone who resisted it all. And to cap it off with a slow dance to “Turn Back Time,” Christmas lights washing over the dance floor and the trio’s mimed disco, SMACK threw us back to that cult 90s love of teen glamour that never was.
After the interval, Spektakel opened like a scene from the Adams Family, clothes strewn and candles lit in a living room where the lights turned on and off, on and off, the five dancers’ figurines in the comically shifting tableaus. The silence broke with the can-can of two fingers from a suitcase–pop!–revealing herself, befuddled, her legs folded up like the luggage itself. Serenaded by The Marriage of Figaro and frivolous allegros, the dancers became in a sense the players from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, re-enacting (if even possible) the ridiculous romance of Pyramus and Thisbe and their awkward advances from behind the stone wall. The dance seemed to exist from the pre-talkie era – it was a hybrid opera, begging all at once to be a silent film and a tale from a storybook. It had its Humpty Dumpty moments: the ins and outs of the floor and the care each had for the other that occasionally weaved in and out of clowning and clumsiness. The band of players swept me up…for a second I might have mistaken them for the Musicians of Bremen!
Fighting over a carpet as a makeshift pedestal, riding a human bull up and down the aisle, burying one another in colorful fabrics like costume shop tenants, Spektakel’s miniature acts fell under the likes of a contemporary A Midsummer, a friendly libretto that welcomed laughs like cherry pits. A version of this dance has probably existed inside the heads of many young dancers wanting to poke fun at their academic ballet playlists. Other versions too, at the outdoor theatres of Vienna between romanesque columns and before daytime audiences in the thousands. And despite all of its nosedives into antiquity, Spektakel proved itself as a dance of anytime, its dancers like sweet jesters who lived timelessly and forevermore.
SMACK is choreographed and performed by Olivia Edginton, Ingvild Marstein Olsen and Vera Ilona Stierli. Spektakel is choreographed by Natalie Sloth Richter in collaboration with the performers Molly Nyeland, Johanna Merceron, Irene Ingebretsen, Svenja Bühl & Vivian Triantafyllopoulou
SMACK photo credit (header image): Verena Leo.