New Movement Collective
Please Be Seated
London, Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall
12 November 2014
Gallery of pictures by Foteini Christofilopoulou
I’m not entirely sure I can review Please Be Seated – on the grounds I was part of it! I’d like to tell you about months of preparation and training for my contemporary dance debut but it’s not so. I, along with 20 or so other souls, was plucked from the Purcell Room queue and officiously talked at with a megaphone. Guided around the back of the stage we are told we could use props (like chairs) as we wished and interact with the dancers, but must obey orders at all times. Then we each emerged through a small domestic door at the back of the stage; the bright lights hit you and you slowly become aware of the audience beyond and wish you were where they were! I decided to to assume the persona of a rather confused older man – ie. be myself. At first we huddled in a group and observed and then we got rather shoved around as the dancers moved the set. Might it have been permissible to say “Piss-off sonny, I’m not moving for anybody”? I don’t know and none of us used the chairs either. In reality, being herded around was fine in return for the privilege of seeing a fine bunch of dancers very close to. Actually a huge luxury that few know of. And after a while the megaphone instructed us to leave the stage and find our seats. Sadly we earned no applause, although I got several private notes of appreciation after… for once the critics were very kind!
Once seated one takes in the rest of the strange world. Diagonally bisecting the audience/auditorium was a stepped wooden walkway on which some of the 7 dancers might noodle or do a stunning, quietly-entwining, duet – as did Clemmie Sveaas and Renaud Wiser, though I cottoned on a bit late and didn’t see it all. It was particularly disorientating for those of us at the front who had to look around to see what might be going on further back, in addition to all the the antics on stage. On stage are what seem like a mix of wooden chairs and benches (furniture designer Jutta Friedrichs) – all in light wood with some perspex additions. The chairs are constantly moved by the dancers and the benches which had barged us around on stage turned out to be super 10 ft-tall chairs (one rocking) when upended. Atop one giant chair a dancer carefully ripped up sheets of paper, which fell like confetti. There is no detectable rhyme or reason to any of this, or to some of the ladies going topless (all tastefully done of course), their powerful torsos facing the audience and menacingly shuffling towards us.
NMC famously perform site-specific works – anywhere but on a stage – and this was billed as their first work for a traditional stage. Our expectations were totally subverted as they were in most other ways. “It’s a great piss-take” I thought – a piss-take of all those crazy shows I’ve seen over the years with impenetrable ideas and everybody taking themselves very seriously. But the surreal elements here were supported by explosions of starry clever movement – starry because these dancers are some of the best contemporary dancers in the country and move with such powerful grace. That said, you do eventually start to tire of seeing them ad lib with chairs and the disorientated feeling drifts away. I’m not sure you can take this further but it was a bonkers event – bonkers in a nice way.
All up, NMC pulled another interesting night out of the bag and easy to see why they have been nominated (as Best Independent Company) in this year’s National Dance Awards. Oh, and if you ever need somebody for crowd control, then Clemmie Sveaas is your girl – seriously menacing when given a megaphone.