The Place’s adventurous four-day Currency Festival aims for the quirky in its mix of dance and circus acts from across Europe. Hence the oddball Hunt & Darton pop-up café, with girls decked out in pineapple-top headgear playing cheesy vinyl and offering round paper plates of Polo mints (there was possibly more of a performance element at some point, but nothing when I dropped by). And a series of ‘blind dates’, each one pairing a choreographer with a contemporary circus artist and giving them free rein to create something (Ben Duke and Vicki Amadume’s very funny result saw them testing each other’s discomfort levels).
The main pieces for night three were very different experiences. The programme notes for Catalan dancer Sònia Sánchez’s El Pliegue (The Fold) seemed to be bidding for a place in Pseud’s Corner (‘These laboratories take the body as a primary political agent and affinity as a system that gives rise to a succession of encounters and compositions’). So it was something of a relief to find the 20-minute piece was in fact much simpler: flamenco stripped back to a blistering raw essence.
Sánchez starts in complete darkness, then is held by a floor-level spotlight that throws her shadow on to the back wall. Crouched like a downhill skier, she hammers out traditional flamenco footwork, twisting and contorting her body and creating strong flamenco arm and hand shapes, with no accompaniment save for occasional bursts of her own powerful singing. As more light is added to the stage, she stands straighter, mixing defiance with pain and vulnerability, at one point quietly circling a fluttering hand over her stomach while holding her other hand over her eyes, before unleashing another torrent of stamps. Her increasingly ragged breathing adds to the intimacy of the piece, which at times seems to touch the ‘cante jondo’ intensity of a Lorca play. It’s a spellbinding display.
Skin Me proved to be a less captivating experience. Viktória Dányi, Csaba Molnár and Tamara Zsófia Vadas started working together in the Bloom! dance collective. Their latest piece, a collaboration with experimental musicians Áron Porteleki and Ádám Czitrom, is, apparently, an exploration of relationships, love and affairs, which starts with the three dancers moving with large, grand gestures while grabbing each other’s bits with increasing frequency, culminating in a simulated and not very convincing ménage a trois. This is delivered with no discernible trace of irony, but nonetheless leaves some of the audience giggling helplessly.
A protracted drum and electric guitar 70s-rock style solo is thankfully ended when Zsófia dismantles Porteleki’s drum kit. There’s a rather disturbing section where Dányi is roughly manhandled while averring that she will ‘change from tomorrow’ – which, although upsetting to watch, does seem to be a commentary on some aspect of relationships. A simulation of an exercise class-cum-rehearsal session where the ‘joke’ seems to be bare breasts jiggle when you jump around, however, does not; and neither does an inexplicable moment where Molnár jumps on Zsófia and covers her with a large picture of a wolf, then sits naked playing the recorder badly. There’s an abrasive edge to Skin Me and its often discordant music that pushes you away rather than draws you in, and it’s rather desperately in need of a clarifying focus.