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Resolution! Dance theatre at The Place

29 January 2013

Resolution!‘ is an annual six-week extravaganza of modern dance theatre staged at The Place in London’s Duke Street. A January/February fixture since 1990, the 2013 event saw 81 separate performances scheduled over 27 days. One of these was ‘Does My…Do I?‘ by Interdigitate, choreographed by Leda Franklin.

Leda’s production needed naked bodies… and that’s where I come in.

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Does My…Do I?‘ is: “A darkly comical look at cosmetic surgery, plastic wrapped bodies, and the length to which we will go to get a date. A fresh look at looking in the mirror.” Interdigitate’s company of seven dancers – Eleni, Ivonne, Jacob, Michael, Nathan, Tomomi and Wayne – were its main performers, with pivotal if largely static roles for dancers Tom and Lil, all supported by a 15-strong ‘chorus’ at the sides of the stage (Lil balanced the numbers when not centre-stage).

Having spotted the call-out for naked chorus volunteers on the blog of nigh-ubiquitous fellow performer Peter Jacobs in mid-December, I emailed Leda my details and was welcomed onto the project. A first rehearsal was scheduled for 5 January, with a second (that I couldn’t attend) set for 16 January, and a concluding full day of ‘tech’, rehearsal, and the actual live performance itself on Friday 18 January.

Rehearsals

The first rehearsal was all about chorus members getting a feel for the production, and Leda assessing her oddly assembled team of volunteers. Practice for the final scene of the performance – a kind of maypole dance in which the chorus encircle a dancer with wrapping bandages in three coordinated phases – proved that the grace and spatial awareness of first-time amateurs isn’t quite on a par with that of professionals.

It also showed that an additional rehearsal would be invaluable, so the Sunday before the show we regrouped for further practice. Some couldn’t make it, others dropped out altogether, and a few new faces were greeted, but overall progress was made. It was then my turn to go missing for the penultimate rehearsal. Two days later it was show time.

When we assembled at 9am on 18 January it was the first time that the whole cast of ‘Does My…Do I?‘ had come together. We had three hours in which to prepare the theatre stage (‘tech’), with lighting, sound levels, equipment and positioning all given keen attention. It was becoming real.

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Details

By this time it had been decided that the chorus would start in varying states of dress or undress. Stage left, front to back, was: myself (T-shirt only), Paul (naked), Lil (naked), Miguel (underpants only), Peter (T-shirt), Camila (undies), Gil (underpants) and Chas (T-shirt). Stage right, front to back: Arthur (underpants), Niv (T-shirt and underpants), Michaela (undies), James (T-shirt), Trebor (underpants), Cy (open shirt), Jerry (naked) and Ricki (T-shirt and underpants).

After tech we had time for one rushed run through of the full performance before hastily vacating the theatre, lest we incur a fine for over-running our allocated 9-12 slot. With two hours to kill before final rehearsal I popped across the road through snow and slush to Euston Station for a bite to eat. On returning there was the small matter of showing my passport at the box office to prove my eligibility to work in the UK.

Our last two hours of practice concentrated on the maypole finale and the dancers’ refinements to the piece that preceded it. A full run through of the performance was once more abbreviated for want of props and by speeding through the dialogue.

Pre-show

Then we waited. Three hours until the doors opened, after which we would be the third of three 25-minute performances, with the audience exiting and returning between each. The sedate dullness of loitering before 7pm was given a slightly sharper tang of anticipation as we relocated to a studio adjoining the back-stage area.

The dancers stretched, writhed, rolled and cavorted with each other, never still for a moment. The chorus lounged about, propping up walls, browsing newspapers, quietly chatting or simply measuring their length on the floor. Some disappeared back-stage, some even front-stage, to watch the dancers that performed prior to us.

As we neared our start time, so the small ripples of nervous energy among the chorus enlarged to waves of agitated excitement. Leda herself had handed out ‘Good Luck’ cards and then disappeared very early on, a martyr to first night tension. Shortly before show time she returned, refreshed and changed into an all-black ensemble that befitted the mastermind of a slick, edgy, original dance creation. We gathered around her to receive final words of inspiration and then we were on.

Show time

The audience was absent as we took to the stage but there were enough coats and bags on chairs for us to know the evening was a near sell-out. The chorus found its positions. I placed my trousers and boxers neatly out of sight behind me, along with the rolled bandage I would need for the maypole dance. A microphone on a stand stood front-centre on stage. To its left, in front of me, Eleni sat on a plastic chair with a bowl of cosmetic products by her feet. Our audience entered.

With Eleni going through a routine of preparing for a date while the whole naked and semi-naked chorus stared intently at her, and beauty industry sales spiel played for a soundtrack, we knew we had made an impression. The crowd was in boisterous mood as they returned from the bar to their seats. There was much banter and guffawing before they finally settled down and Tom sauntered on from stage right, beer in hand.

Eleni got up to meet Tom at the microphone and I stepped forward to remove her chair and make-up from the stage. This was to be done as unobtrusively as possible for a 6’4″ man with no pants on. I had only two concerns: not to drop the make-up all over the floor, and not to show my breakfast to the front row when I bent down to pick up the bowl. I succeeded in the first matter; I like to think I got away with the latter.

At the microphone Eleni and Tom exchanged dialogue as a couple seeing each other for the first time on a blind date and neither meeting the other’s expectations. The words that had been rushed and mumbled in rehearsals were now alive and ringing clear. The audience responded in all the right places. It occurred to me that, like them, I too was seeing the performance in its entirety for the very first time.

Chains, games and mascara

Exit Tom. Niv removed the microphone; the other six dancers entered. Together with Eleni they formed up with chains around their waists, standing in front of seven mirrors arranged in two rows across the stage. They inspected and preened themselves in slow movements to the sounds of birds twittering. As a crow cawed we all craned forward for a closer look. The pace picked up, we leaned back, and the dancers threw themselves energetically into the ‘chain dance’. Meanwhile, those of us in the chorus without underwear began a drawn-out process of slyly getting dressed.

When the dancers departed with their mirrors the chorus slowly crossed the stage, swapping sides, and deposited five chairs ready for the ‘game show’. In my view this segment would make or break the whole performance. It cast five of the dancers as ultra-thrilled contestants, Wayne as the gushing host and Ivonne encased in a ‘fat suit’ as ‘the prize’. Contestants would try to win parts of Ivonne for use in personal cosmetic procedures by answering three exceptionally crude, humiliating questions about her body.

If the audience didn’t get this bit – how our callous judgementalism dehumanises others while our limitless vanity dehumanises ourselves – then all would be lost. There was no subtlety or mitigation to help them, yet mercifully they laughed out loud, at us and themselves rather than the appalling game show. Wayne hit top form when it mattered and the chorus did his cheerleading. With a count of 1-2-3 at the end, the lights were cut and the dancers scampered away with the spare chairs.

Illumination returned in the form of two spotlights on two chairs occupied by Eleni and Tom. It was now Tom’s turn to go through a make-up routine, genuinely applying assorted cosmetics, even going so far as to rip two wax strips from his very hairy legs. Eleni harangued him throughout with quickfire instructions. When the lid of an eyeliner pot got stuck her sharp-witted ad-libbing brought the audience even further into the show. It was all going rather well.

The big finish

Exit Eleni, exit Tom, the chorus crossed the stage, and once more I prayed I wouldn’t drop the make-up that I carried off with Tom’s towel and chair. It was now time for the penultimate piece: the ‘doll dance’. Lil, who had artfully left the chorus, was deposited centre-stage with her back to the audience, naked but enshrouded head-to-toe in two clear plastic bags. The dancers returned clothed in three pairs: one in a plastic bag (a game show winner), the other to remove them and ease them into animation.

While the doll dance accelerated to a fearsome crescendo the chorus put on the last of their clothes. For me this meant slowly pulling on a pair of black jeans. We also picked up our bandages. The dancers continued hurling themselves about the stage, running, sliding, twisting and catching before finally slithering to Lil’s feet, tearing away her plastic covers and each taking one of six bandages tied around her waist.

As the dancers unfurled the bandages like taut ribbons, slowly circling anti-clockwise, so the maypole finale was underway. After one revolution Cy and I walked in, handed Lil one end of our rolled bandages and then walked out again to circle around with the dancers. The rest of the chorus followed us in pairs, one from each side of the stage.

Once everyone was circling, at Eleni’s signal the shorter half of the cast stepped inside and reversed direction. At her second cry we all took up a run. At her final cry we stopped, dropped our bandages, turned to face the audience, paused, and then exited to the nearest wing leaving Lil mummified and alone in the centre. The lights were cut and the applause was rapturous.

Take a bow

Lights up, the dancers returned and took a bow; the applause was ecstatic. The technicians were shown a hand by the dancers; the applause was prolonged. The chorus was welcomed back to take a bow; the applause was sustained. We bowed again and the applause followed us as we left, with Nathan carrying the still bandage-swathed and heroically nonchalant Lil.

What a fabulous experience. I was so happy for Leda and the dancers. Whilst this was a heart-warming novelty for most of the chorus, it was life and livelihood for the professionals. The genuine applause – and subsequent glowing reviews – was fair reward for much more hard work than we ever witnessed from the wings.

We felt flush with success as we quit our back-stage studio and dressing rooms, first reassembling in the theatre bar and then migrating to Mabel’s Tavern at the end of Flaxman Terrace. I could happily have stayed all night but with snow and ice still causing chaos in the world beyond our little bubble of joy there was no option but to tear myself away after a single Sauvignon Blanc.

And now I am once more but a life model standing at the fringes of the performing arts, ready to dip in a toe whenever the opportunity permits. Will I ever be involved with dance theatre again? Impossible to guess, but should another opportunity arise I would seize it in an instant. That is my personal resolution.

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