By Alexandra Baybutt 21/09/13
Probably the best compliment I ever received was in a club, circa 2000, from a stranger telling me he’d never seen someone in such synchrony with their surroundings. At their best, my clubbing experiences were a place of honesty, love of music and cascading sound systems dropping the meatiest bloody hugs, through our sweaty skins straight to the core. Us, the braying crowd, with tightened shoelaces and belts to endure a night of dance, snarl-lipped appreciative faces indicating good tunes, crescendos, high contrast and high BPM. I never had dance-offs, I never danced in heels, any preening was limited. But the dancing was, as I say at best, an act of love. I got whiffs of that during my absent-minded time-travelling at the Lilian Baylis Studio on Friday night. The Lilian Baylis Studio as a club: seating gone, mobile lighting, ‘our home is your home’ announced in the queue before we went in. As a construct, it was a pleasure. It recast my eye on the studio itself, the versatility of the black box, the structures of our experience, the manipulation of environment so easy with our obedience to light and sound. No sweat running down the walls though, no smell of red bull and vodka.
Earlier, I’d seen much vigorous dancing. A lot of technique. Smelt a scarf. Some honesty, some concealing, some collage of composition (Alessandra Seutin). A piece choreographed by a man (Antony Egea) on a woman (Ella Mesma) that echoed for one spilt second Mary Wigman’s Hexentanz, then very soon dissolved any thoughts of modernist overtures. Painfully perpetuating a vision of a female predator, this solo sat at opposite ends of the message from the pre-show piece in the Kahn Theatre, in which I was shouted at to join in a call and response holler: ‘big up de girls’ (Cindy Claes). In both pieces, I suppose modern parlance would gravitate to the word ‘fierce’, but the cruelty and violence implicit in that word, underneath the celebration of brilliance, dissuades me.
The club though, this was clearly the climax. We can lurk on the stairs or on the balcony, where I get a nice overview of pools of action. It’s safe, it’s civil, it’s joyful, it’s competition for focus. The audience swarm at the start of Vicki Igbokwe’s Our Mighty Groove: lights casting a glaze on Uchenna’s solo figures, with various degrees of pout and primp. Split focus, tension teases and eventually after solos, duos, podiums and a catwalk, a crescendo of ensemble movement is encircled by audience. The dancers give and give. I appreciate their ease and vitality. They also give to whatever cameras are pointed their way, the future-focussed preservation devices banned from most performance contexts are now alive and in a kind of brief dialogue here. A small detail in the larger throng, but a relaxed, wilful skewing of theatre performance etiquette. Playing to a camera: a tiny social dance familiar from the performances in everyday life.
I feel the translation of the love of Igbokwe’s first encounter with an underground New York club experience, and attempting it in the certainly not underground context of Sadler’s Wells is happily incongruous. It does, somewhat effectively, capture the temporary togetherness of a club. In this frame, I get to look at other people, the people I sat with earlier, maybe some of the people answering Alessandra Seutin’s Yes or No questions, the people whooping and cheering, the people admiring of the technique and virtuosity of earlier performances, the silent ones, the ambivalent ones, the ones in the social circle, the professional circle, the friends, the strangers. The gesture of performance, as an offering and inclusion, was addressed to various degrees that night, with varying degrees of success. I go home paying homage to my own clubbing history, relishing a state of presence that includes present and past – something all the Wild Card experiences evoked.
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