I’m a sucker for a children’s show. The audience are just as demanding as grownups but there is the additional frisson of not knowing what they will get up to if excited… or just bored stiff. Dance shows specifically made for kids (substitute young people if you want to be more politically correct) have never been that numerous but there are increasing signs that the young are on the radar of dance makers much more.
The Questions and Dancers initiative, by Sadler’s Wells, Company of Angels, The Place and London Contemporary Dance School (LCDS) in partnership with MOKO Dance, takes things a stage further in involving the audience in the creation of dance pieces with follow-up weekly updates on progress and two-way exchanges on how it is all going – hence the overarching bill title. And that two-way conversation continued after each of the works was premiered, with the Places engaging Peter Laycock popping up to lead Q&A sessions involving the young audience. It was rather good to see the choreographer and all the dancers lined up on stage being asked innocent and yet tricky questions about what had just been performed. The dancers are all in their final year at London Contemporary Dance School and the two selected choreographers pitched their ideas to get dancers in their piece – how democratic.
Sally Marie’s I am 8 is a delightful coming-of-age piece that builds from there all the way through until they become 21. For 6 girls and a boy, the subject of much interest, it features a Frank Moon soundtrack that punctuates cameo scenes of love, quarrels, suspicion of the opposite sex, going wild and the narrated announcements of what they want in life. That was the only jarring aspect – the students are not used to speaking on stage and so some of the words couldn’t be heard so easily and left the dance moment unsupported. But there was resonance with the kids nearer the stage and a short section of One Direction dancing brought the house down. Sally Marie is delightfully vernacular in person and her creation speaks to ordinary little people about the humdrum and not-so-humdrum of life – no Princesses and Princes in her work. I also liked that when the piece was being created she used the thoughts of the audience members to come up with the aspirations the dancers later spoke. “I want to be a millionaire” was one of them – later modified to be “I want to be a billionaire”. Yep – a million is nothing these days in London. One audience comment was that “The dancing was like a dance rainbow” – such eloquence and I’ll go with that as a summation of its overall impact.
John Ross’s There, There Stranger was a much more imaginary flight of fancy in which a girl, after a row with her mother, starts loading the washing machine and, rather like Alice and the rabbit hole, decides to enter its strange watery world. There are 8 mysterious water sprites – the ballet term for them that came to me – but they were also referred to as shadows or, disarmingly, just called “Black people” by the audience. Anyway they were in black all-in-ones from tip of head to toe and you couldn’t see their features at all – just pure movement. At the start they seemed the shadows of tossed water and at other times strange creatures indeed, working together in lines or spooling off as the dance gets more structure. The young audience followed the work closely and come the end were full of questions about the practicalities of how the dancers could see in the black costumes, how long it took to make and how long all the dancers had been dancing (in her part Sally Marie said 41 years, to much mirth – she looks so young). I found it interesting that none of the kids asked who the “black people” were. That said the best question of the afternoon just had to come from the young chap who asked: “Why was it a washing machine and not a dish washer?”! Now there’s a dramaturge in the making I thought. This is the second Questions and Dancers and all involved hope to repeat the exercise biennially – that is an excellent idea.