Words by angel dust and Katie Hagan.
(KH): Holly Blakey’s Cowpuncher My Ass is dripping in coolness. It’s been a couple of years since its last pre-pandemic performance in 2020, which one of our dance writers reviewed and loved for its transgressive approach.
Now a few years later comes a new rendition of Cowpuncher My Ass to the Saharan expansiveness of the Southbank Centre. This trippy, folky dance-western features lots of ass and IG Reel trendy choreography, but this time it’s slightly longer in duration, with the additional presence of London Contemporary Orchestra coming in three quarters of the way through to play a shrill violin sequence that heightens the highly strung sexualness of what happens onstage.
What’s good about Cowpuncher My Ass is the faultlessly cool aesthetic and unapologetically brash presentation of sexual impulse and desire. Aesthetically and sensorially, this show is a delicious mismatch of pop and higher art. In Mica Levi’s stunning score, you get sounds of the motorway jarring against hacking mechanical clunks – and the violin. The sound design is so powerful you can taste it. Beautiful dancers glide and gyrate in the late Vivienne Westood’s high-end fashion designs. I don’t think we’re supposed to make sense of how Cowpuncher’s polarities sit with each other, but the combinations are weird and wonderful.
There isn’t a plot in Cowpuncher, rather there are abstract cycles of thumpy choreography blended with the score and costumes. Bodies shake, they’re thrown to the floor; hip thrusts; gyrations, undulations. Cowpuncher is this ageless pagan satanic ritual. Dancers take each other for a ride, and there’s playful allusions to sex acts and positions which in a Southbank Centre performance context feel rebelliously taboo in their confrontation.
Beyond the aesthetic and to how Cowpuncher My Ass makes you feel, I hit a bit of a stumbling block. The show ebbs and flows; you are pulled in and out. The choreography is fantastic, the dancers are exceptional and move exceptionally, but something is missing to really hook you in and grab you by the neck, even when it seems, that is the desire.
(ad): I think that Cowpuncher My Ass forces us to confront a certain rawness and bareness. It does that by attempting to be bold in ways that open up space for exploring what discomfort is, asking the question of where does it come from and why? However, it is not clear whether that is the main intention. Its boldness never escalates, meaning that the audience is constantly left grasping for a gasp.
Cowpuncher is smart and cool, just like its title, but could it benefit from further dramaturgical development? There is simultaneously too much and not enough happening at any given point. Having said that, I was still drawn into this futuristic-universal-folk rave, but I kept waiting to be surprised which unfortunately never happened. I needed more ass, more snow and probably an extra shot in my double gin and tonic.
Photo credit: Arnaud Mbaki.
Chester Hayes @chesterhayes
Grace Jabbari @gracejabbari
Becky Namgauds @beckynamgauds
Jonny Vieco @jonnyvieco
Naomi Weijand @naomiweijand
Meshach Henry @meshhenry
Moses Ward @moses.m.o.ward
+ 20 musicians from the London Contemporary Orchestra
Holly Blakey – Director / Choreographer @hollytblakey
Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood – Costumes @ndreaskronthaler for @viviennewestwood
Rob Ames for London Contemporary Orchestra – @lcorchestra
Mica Levi – Original score – #micalevi
Ben Totty – Exec Producer @bentotty84 for @boxartistmanagement
Ornella Salloum – Producer
Nathalie Blue – Booking Agent @newformmusic
Darcy Wallace – Choreographers Assistant @darcyjwallace
Jeannie Steele: Rehearsal Director