Posts Tagged ‘Slung Low’

Barbican Double Header review – Slung Low, “They Only Come at Night” and Michael Clark Company, “Swamp” and “come, been, gone” (the Bowie/Iggy/Lou Reed dances)

October 31, 2009

Friday night marked a brief return to the world of Dance! Theater! Art!, all three of which I packed into one night at the Barbican. My new job is near Old Street, and, wow! The Barbican is just ten minutes walk from my front door! I decided to take advantage of the early start time of the new Slung Low piece (Visions: They Only Come at Night) and relative late start time of the new Michael Clark piece to see two shows in one night. I’d really enjoyed the previous Slung Low piece I’d seen (“Helium“), and, well, a dance piece inspired by David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed! How could I not go!

I started off the evening by a brief visit to the Barbican’s Curve gallery to see Robert Kusmirowski’s “Bunker.” It’s basically a recreation of a WWII era underground war operations area, with a train track following the curve of the wall and little rooms built inside, such as a toliet area and a command office. Unfortunately I’ve seen a lot of these in real life since moving to England and I didn’t find this very interesting; maybe in America it would have been more “ooh ah.” Possibly worth 5 minutes and free so if you’ve got time to kill before a show, why not, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend a special trip.

Next up was “They Only Come At Night,” which is apparently supposed to be a spooky promenade show that takes advantage of the Barbican’s underground parking area. I can definitely see where their parking garage would be creepy but this show wasn’t. The Slung Low penchant for having participants put on headphones to hear dialogue/monologue was relied upon to the point that it pretty well killed the show for me – it was just too damned wordy – and listening to the “evil doctor” (or whatever he was) go on about his plans for taking over the world (or whatever it was) just kind of put me in a hypnotic trance that set me free from the droning in my ears and let me take in the atmosphere that was surrounding me. The whole thing was remarkably actorless (I think I saw 5 in total – no, 6, as there was also a creeping horror in one room), and the one to one interaction I did have made me think they all need just a bit more work with improv (and possibly more research on vampires in popular culture) to make it all seem more realistic.

Let’s see: short, spoilerless description? You are taken in a group of three to the parking garage, where you are occasionally split up and frequently made to stand inside a circle of salt and put on headphones. The headphones thing happens once before you go in and five times after. Once you will be split up and each have a one on one moment with an actor; if you are lucky, you might get the actor who gives you potato chips. If you get them, feel free to eat them, as you will not need them during the story. There is one actor who is a bit scary if he touches you and you don’t see him coming. Um … it all takes around 40 minutes. There are projections, which are sometimes okay and once fairly good.

Overall, though, this would have been more effective if we had been split up more, if more had been going on inside the car park, if the things we were given somehow came into play later, if the actors interacted with us more, if there had been more reliance on creating atmosphere via something besides listening endlessly to people talking through the headphones, if the last actress had had something bad happen to her on the way out. But they didn’t and it wasn’t and while it wasn’t the worst 40 minutes I’ve spent, it was also skippable. It’s sold out now, but the good thing is you’re not really missing anything. Go see some puppet shows at the Suspense Festival instead, that looks really good.

Unfortunately because the show had run over, we couldn’t go out to Pho Cafe (a bit of a long shot but really yummy) or to Sedap but were instead forced to throw ourselves on the mercy of the food offerings at the Barbican, which were pretty consistently overpriced and underinspiring. That said, for 4 quid I got a bowl of salad topped with two cold salads, one potato and ham, the other quinoa and rice, and it was filling – the quinoa was even enjoyable, though the excess mayonnaise on the potato salad grossed me out and I gave up on it.

Anyway, 7:45 and a drink order later (at least the bar was cheap!), we were in our nice stalls seats in the space-age Barbican Theater for the Michael Clark company’s latest. The breakdown was “Swamp” (music by Wire, then music by Bruce Gilbert), followed by “come, been, gone” (first half Velvet Underground, then, strangely, an interval, then music by David Bowie). “Warm Leatherette” was playing overhead, and I was excited about the evening.

Unsurprisingly, it all turned out a little mixed. The first bit, with dancers in space-age blue or white costumes, seemed relaxed. I found myself focusing on the dancers bodies, noticing that three of the women were almost interchangeably petite, while the third seemed just generally more solid and adult. The men were very bulky, rugby-looking types. Does Clark go for a hyper masculine/feminine look in his dancers? To be sure, they were pleasant to look at, and left me feeling fat and out of shape, but … just trying to figure out what was on his mind. The movement was pleasant and graceful, but not memorable. Ah well, on to the bar and some rock and roll boozing prior to the Velvet Underground section.

This half of “come, been, gone” was, I think, fairly successful, with background images that called to mind the various movies of their live shows. “Venus in Furs” went for some really obvious yet fun SM-y costuming (though the sparkly Zentai suit was much cheerier than scary); “White Light/White Heat” was all about the boogieing. “Heroin” had the single worst costume I’ve ever seen in a dance piece, up there with Bjork’s Academy Awards swan outfit: painfully ugly and obvious. However, the dance itself ended with a little gay silver-trousered sprite perking around on stage in a way that I thought actually captured the joy of getting high that was very much a part of this song, and darned nice after all of the heavy-handed “I stick needles in my body” ick that preceded it. Amd, hey, let’s hear it for dancers in low-rise, skin tight silver pants; the feel was very Andy Warhol’s Factory and I think hit the era pretty well. (“Ocean” was a nap, by the way, but it’s a really slow song so no surprise there.)

The final section was, I think, going to be the most challenging, as Bowie has creating a really solid visual image to accompany his music. Would Mr. Clark be able to rise to the challenge, and maybe go beyond it? Well … the answer was, I’m afraid, no. The worse failure was “Heroes,” where he not only clad the dancers in mini-leather jackets that echoed Bowie’s video, but then insisted on accompanying the performance by having the video itself projected on the back screen, which proved totally distracting, overwhelming the rather modest movement. I find the music really soaring and gorgeous, but the movement was very much on the floor. Bah. This was, however, the worse of the series; “Mass Production” (by Iggy Pop), with its bizarre, two toned (actually three toned but kind of like a bird’s coloring) costumes and exaggerated movement (the dancers leaning sharply backwards and moving very slowly) nicely captured the whole space-age yet still very 70s weirdness that I think represents some of the best of that era’s Glam Rock sound.

Fortunately for the last two songs, “Aladdin Sane” and “Jean Genie,” Clark really got into the story telling and joy of the music. I can’t tell you how much I loved “Aladdin Sane.” It’s a great song with amazing piano in it, and Clark both went for showing the story in the lyrics but also having solo work that played out the riffs of the music – something I’ve tried to do myself in my living room many times but enjoyed seeing a real dancer and a real choreographer tackle on stage. In addition, the throbbing baseline played out as a sort of group march, which suddenly brought to mind the “March of the Montagues and Capulets” from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Rah! The garish orange flame costumes were also really appropriate to the music, carrying across a lot of the weight of the Bowie imagery, perhaps more successful due to the lack of overshadowing video. This all transitioned rather nicely into “Jean Genie,” which had the dancers adding checkered jackets over their orange bodysuits and just really going for the joy of the song.

I have to mention that in the middle of this section, Mr. Clark himself came out and did a strange little dance that just reminded me of Hitchcock making a cameo in one of his movies. Very, very odd; was it for a costume change or were the dancers just incredibly beat?

Anyway, overall I’d consider this a fun night, in part because I really like seeing dance that actually engages a vernacular that means something to me. Abstract music is all really nice, but this music is the music of me (as well as Mr Clark and a lot of the audience), and seeing it danced was great. I wish there’d been more partnering and more leaps and such, though – the movement just generally seemed very atomistic, like it almost didn’t matter that there were so many people dancing on stage, and the random “girl on pointe” moments made me sad for what could have been – if he’d wanted it. Still, it was a lot better than the last thing I saw by Clark, and generally enjoyable. I expect it will be a very popular evening.

(Michael Clark continues through November 7th, 2009. Slung Low continues through November 15th, 2009 but is sold out for the run; return seats may be available. Bunker continues through January, 2010.)

Review – Slung Low’s “Last Seen,” Green path (Joy) – Almeida Theatre’s Summer Festival

July 8, 2009

Tonight I went to see Slung Low’s latest project, Last Seen, a promenade performance happening under the aegis of the Almeida Theatre’s Summer Festival. Although I was pretty excited about seeing this, I’m sorry to say it let me down. Perhaps it was just the story line that I took, Green (“Joy”) – the other two had two characters and I only had Joy (Lolita Chakrabarti) to entertain me.

The format was thus: we (the audience) gathered in the Almeida (note that where you sit determines which story you follow, so I recommend you pick either upstairs for White (Reason Season) or the rear of the stalls for Blue (The Great Bear)), where we were instructed to put on headphones. A brief check is done to verify that the equipment was working (it wasn’t initially for anyone – opening night problems, I’m sure). Then each group of people is led out, one group at a time, by the character(s) whose stories they will be following for the rest of the evening. Each group is also accompanied by one or two guides (we had two, I think, though only one introduced himself to us), who make sure the groups of headphone-wearing and thus mostly deaf people actually get across the streets safely and don’t block cars from getting down alleys.

Our narrator was a woman named Joy. As we trooped down Almeida Street, she began to tell us of her daughter Angel and a bit about her family. Although she spoke in a normal voice, we all listened to her through our headphones, which continually played some music (not helpful) and occasionally other people’s voices. Joy met someone who gave her a gold painted medicine bottle, and shortly thereafter was menaced by a man in a face mask and hoodie on a bike.

We wandered along until we came to the Astey’s Row Rock Gardens, where she talked about being sexually harassed at a job. We paused for a while at the entrance to the park, where a strange sculpture of gold art model dolls had been put near a playground. I think I also saw a gold painted chewed apple in the park – they kept showing up throughout the performance, and though I thought perhaps they had some reference to Adam and Eve or perhaps even Eris, they seemed only later to refer to some apples her daughter had eaten.

The most exciting moment of the evening came when Joy told us of meeting Angel’s father (done after we’d passed through the park behind St. Mary’s Church, possibly on St. Mary’s Path), where a man was leaning against a spray-painted shadow on a wall. He fit it perfectly. He then walked away from the shadow and went to another wall, where he continued playing with his cellphone. Joy stood in the shadow and changed into a red dress; the gorgeous, high-cheeked man was joined by a woman who made out with him enthusiastically. We all walked back to the church and were eventually passed by the man and the woman, but were they a part of the scene or just some random, hormonal strangers? None of us knew.

We did actually go in the church, and then back to the Almeida, all within about an hour, but there’s little really to say about the walk. It didn’t make Islington come alive, like it might have; the other two stories didn’t come together at all, like Moonwalking in Chinatown (but we were told we could stay and watch another thread for a mere 5 quid, or come back and see it for 40% off at another date during the run); it didn’t take advantage of the headphones to provide us with secret information on people’s thoughts like Minkette’s brilliant Train of Thought. It didn’t seem to have a real arc to it; in fact, it was rather dull. It didn’t take advantage of being in Islington at all and didn’t really benefit from being a promenade in any way as near as I can tell.

In short, this was a huge disappointment for me. I am really hoping the other stories were more interesting. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to check as I’m gone for the rest of the run (it’s last day is Sunday July 12th), but I have to say I’d be really hard pressed to bother coming back after tonight even if I was free.

(This review was based on the 7 PM performance that took place Wednesday July 8th. Last Seen continues through Sunday July 12th, 2009, with performances at 7 and 9 except for Sunday the 12th, when it is at 4 and 6 PM.)

Preview – Slung Low’s “Last Seen” – Almeida Theatre’s Summer Festival

June 30, 2009

UPDATE: review of “Last Seen” now posted.

Today’s trip into work left me with a hot tip courtesy of The Metro: Slung Low is doing a site specific show in Islington as part of the Almeida Theatre’s Summer Festival. I enjoyed their production Helium last fall, and I like walkabout, site-specific theater (Moonwalking in Chinatown the best I’ve seen since I moved here), so this sounds like a sure win. However, with such a prominent story in the Metro, it’s likely this might sell out, as it’s only five nights (though with a showing at 7 and 9). Get your tickets while you can!

(This preview is for a show running from Wednesday July 8th through Sunday July 12th, 2009.)

Review – Slung Low’s “Helium” – The Barbican

September 24, 2008

A few weeks ago I read a review for a show (in The Metro, which shockingly put it online for once) that really caught my attention. It sounded like one of those site-specific pieces – sort of … well, what do you call those Punchdrunk-style things where the audience gets walked around? Er … well, okay, it sounded like an interesting piece of theater to experience, one where the story is very much created by what it’s like to watch the play, rather that just sitting and watching a story take place in front of you. I was especially interested because (as I recalled the review) it was about a girl’s relationship with her grandfather, and I had a very close relationship with my grandmother and am thus interested in seeing this kind of thing depicted by other people.

The show was also described as being very intimate, with just one person being allowed to watch it at a time. Wow! That sounded very different. And it was short – so if it was terrible, it would all be over soon. And Boy Howdy was it cheap – £10 a ticket. I was sold.

As was, apparently, everyone else on God’s green earth who had read the Metro (or perhaps TimeOut, as its review was also pretty positive). Tickets were sliding out of my husband’s fingers (as he attempted to navigate the Barbican’s online ticketing facilities) faster than I could say, “Yes! No!” and we wound up booking for the last hour of the last night of this show, with entrance times an hour apart. Damn!

As we (at last) arrived (with tickets that had fortunately been rejiggered so we were only 15 minutes apart – and then they let us just come in immediately after each other, with a five minute separation), we were greeted by cheerful tour guides, who gave us birthday card invitations (with our specific entrance time written on them – as well as our names, of course) and gummy worms, then sat us down to await our turn. When my turn came, a guide came and introduced himself to me. He was going to be my guide for the whole show, and he promised to get me every time and make sure I went to the right place (none of this Battersea Arts Center faffing around stuff, thank God). He explained to me that there were going to be people in the rooms we were going to go in, and even though I could see them, they couldn’t see me and wouldn’t respond to me if I talked to them (I restrained myself from rolling my eyes), though I was free to walk around and look at things unless he had pointed out a particular place for me to be. He also very kindly took my sweater and purse. I realized he was just an actor, but still, I’ve hardly had someone talk so nicely to me in the two years I’ve been here, so it was actually a nice way to start the evening. I restrained myself from making some kind of, “So, it’s closing night, how have the audiences been?” kind of comment and let him stay in character instead.

We then walked up to a little free standing building that looked kind of like a plywood garden shed, with stairs going up to a door and no windows. Around the space I could see other jumpsuited guides walking people up to other buildings … hmm! A series of simultaneously occurring plays! How cool … The guide explained that we were actually starting at the end, which he repeated as if many of the people attending had just found it far too confusing. He opened the door for me (while promising to come back and get me when it was time to leave) … and in I went.

Inside the shed was a little room that looked like someone’s office, with books on the wall, a desk, and a few partially packed boxes. A woman (Vicky Pratt) was sitting in front of the desk on the old-fashioned phone talking, while the (also old-fashioned) radio droned on loudly. After a while it became clear that the radio was actually commenting on what she was saying, and, eventually, even talking about me – or, rather, my presence in the room. Between the woman and the radio, I gathered that she was there to clean up her grandfather’s place after he died, and that there was some sort of mystery she was trying to solve … something about how he used to give her a helium filled balloon for her birthday every year … I think. Unfortunately because I was sick, I was kind of fading in and out of paying attention, and I was getting very hung up at looking at all of the detail of the little environment I was in. What was the book she was flipping through? Was there some clue in the periodic table that was on the wall? Um … was I supposed to be listening a little better? No matter, she hung up the phone, the door behind her opened, and presto! There was my guide.

I stepped out of the back of the shed and my guide offered me some popcorn as we walked the two or so yards to my second stop. Mmm, popcorn! He had me flip a switch and then sent me into the next environment, my favorite of the night – “A theater with a seat just for you!” as my guide had promised. Inside the box, I found myself standing behind a balcony at a movie theater, “far above” the rows and rows of tiny seats on the floor. It was adorable! A movie was playing on the screen showing magic tricks, which I think was supposed to be a scene from the grandfather’s life, perhaps something about handling disappointment poorly. A balloon did appear on the screen … but I wasn’t paying nearly enough attention. The environment was just so adorable that I spent at least half of my time looking at the incredible detail. I felt like I was inside of a doll’s house (did the box of popcorn perhaps have a label on it saying, “Eat Me?”). Then the movie was over, the credits rolled … and the door opened, and my guide was waiting outside.

The third room had a much more mechanical look to it, like I was going into a safe or a submarine. I was instructed to sit in the corner and put the headphones on. I opened the door … and there was a man sitting in the corner with his own headphones on, dressed in a kind of jumpsuit … with a radio next to him … and something funny about the floor …. ah! I got it! We were in an airplane in World War II, and he was talking to his friends in the other airplanes on the radio. I could hear what they were saying to him in my headphones … but then also … another voice … the one I heard in the first room. It was two voices, in fact, apparently the grandfather, commenting on this period of his life, and … the mystery character. Then, suddenly, we were going on a bombing raid, and the floor of the room opened up, a great breeze blew in from the opened bombing bay, and we watched as the bombs fell out of the little airplane’s belly and made pretty fire bouquets … all over Dresden.

My my my. How these things do come full circle. (Which probably means nothing to anyone reading this who doesn’t know me personally.)

At this point, I’ll actually stop telling the tale of the show, so that if they remount it, anyone who reads this review will still have some surprises. There were two more environments, neither of which was nearly as good as the second and third, and then a little fun bit as you walked out, but overall, I felt … well, like it was good, but like the story was just starting as I was leaving! It’s actually a good thing to have a show not wear out its welcome, but this one really seemed just too short. I was enjoying myself and really going with it and would have been happy to have kept on with the story for at least another half an hour, even though I was ill and just all too grateful that half of the scenes had a place for me to sit. I apologize if you missed it, but given how fast the tickets sold out the day the reviews hit the street, I’m sure you are not alone in this. Let’s hope it gets done again.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, September 20th, when I was pretty much on my deathbed but still bound and determined to get out and see this show. It was closing night. Apologies in advance if you want to see it.)