To its detriment, this performance had to contend with a particularly bad episode of what could be referred to as ‘Playhouse Chair’. Sometimes in the venue, with large people in the rows ahead, there’s little way of seeing very much taking place on stage at all. It may have been a much more absorbing work sitting in the circle, able to see the whole space. Watching the whole thing hanging off the side of the row, head tilted 90 degrees, and still missing half of the action made for a miserable experience for which the company were not responsible, but really did not help matters.
New Yorker Heidi Latsky’s company is a mixture of able-bodied dancers, or at least seemingly able-bodied dancers, and noticeably disabled performers. Some have been dancing all their lives, others became involved because the choreographer met them and loved their natural movements.
The 75 minute piece began with a visually impressive aerial work, a duet between an able bodied male gymnast and female performer with no lower limbs. It had promise (curse my obscured view), but seemed separate from the rest of the show. Later, the dancers’ frantic movements, highlighted by minimal light against a black backdrop, blurred bodies into weird, unfamiliar shapes. Obviously, the physicality of the human body had to be one of the issues under the microscope in this piece. Doesn’t matter who you are – we’re all gorgeous, we’re all funny-looking, we’re all sexy, we’re all freaks. There were some nice duets that worked well, but often the overarching choreography just seemed too domineering. At one point, when one of the dancers began to talk to the audience in the way the company will have heard over and over again in real life – “You’re beautiful, you’re amazing, I’m going to tell people about this” – made an interesting point but came across as patronising and a bit antagonistic. Aha… if that was what they were getting at, very clever. The tables turned.
As for any attempt to figure out what it was all about, although some audience members later praised the ‘rich strands of the narrative’, Gimp almost raised too many questions, took on too many issues, and ended up far too po-faced and earnest, at times almost a parody of what a piece like this could be. Is this nonchalance on the part of an able-bodied reviewer, an underestimation of the achievements of even just getting a work like Gimp to the stage? Maybe.
The company held a question and answer session after the performance, and immediately seemed like a relaxed and good natured lot. It would have been nice to see a little of that transferred into the piece. But for all the excitement and anticipation for the launch of this, the opener of the 10th Dadafest, Gimp didn’t really go far enough. Although thought-provoking, it seemed a bit too obvious in its intent and not entirely self-aware, and lacked that stamp of life-affirming exuberance that Dada can do so well.