Hanna Gillgren and Heidi Rustgaard, the directors of H2Dance, set out to look at the relationships between different generations when devising Staging Ages. They use five dancers of ages ranging from “almost twelve on Saturday” (as he proudly tells us) to sixty-seven. It’s a promising idea, but in performance, despite a few effective scenes, it delivers fragmented sketches that don’t really make you reconsider what you already know about the perils of adolescence or old age.
The stage is covered with rows of garments, neatly laid out on the floor that will be progressively disarranged and used as props. The five dancers introduce themselves and state their age. Sandro Gillgren Bonfanti is the youngest, Ella Sophoclides is a teenager, Andrew Graham is in his twenties, Laura Doehler in her thirties, and an imperial Emilyn Claid is the eldest. The movement vocabulary is fairly simple with repetition of signature moves for each character establishing the rigidity of some of the roles we fall into.
The premise is that one of the characters shouts out a number – an age – and how this feels is then illustrated by some or all of the cast, regardless of whether they are that actual age or not. Performers can be recalling their own experiences of the past or imagining how their future will be. So the young boy gets to be a drunk 21-year-old, and the oldest performer can be a child or a teenager. The clothes on stage are used to assume new identities, to burden or to entangle. There are many of these episodes, and quite a few are very brief, some with just one pose or image.
Sometimes these episodes can be amusing, such as stuffing clothes down a t shirt, making an instant, ageing beer belly. There are some laughs and some anarchic energy on offer, but item follows item in quick succession without cumulatively registering a bigger impact. It feels ultimately insubstantial.
It’s only when a vignette develops into a slightly longer episode that the approach yields dividends. Laura Doehler staggers along under the weight of clothes that the two youngest performers throw around her or stuff into her garments as a voiceover of a harried mother agonises about getting some time to herself. A longer section deals with Emilyn Claid progressively ageing through her seventies into her nineties and beyond. At first she is still dancing, as the years are announced, a foot drags, then a hand curls into an unusable clench, her back sags and she is finally pushed into a chair. It’s bleak and effective, one of the few moments that did look at hard issues.
The soundtrack carries a good deal of text, and more is spoken by the performers, though this is not always as audible as might have been intended. There is a section where the adult performers cast off their clothes, and all the expectations that seem to come with them, to dance around happily in the nude (the two younger performers are blindfolded and dancing around oblivious to it all at this point).
The youngest and the eldest are the standout performers here – lively, quite unfazed by it all, and looking as if they really enjoy the performance. At just over an hour though, the stuffing of clothes into other clothes became too repetitive and the work felt rather too long for its vocabulary.