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The Blue Elephant Theatre and

Sebastian Rex Dance Group present

 

God Cried Woof

 

Photo by Tina Engstrom

 

Choreographed by Sebastian Rex

 

Music:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Symphony No. 3 in E Flat Major, Op. 55, “Eroica”

 

Designed by Helena O’Nions

 

Costumes constructed by Rosalind Bolton and Rebecca Prince

  

Dancers
                                  

  Lisa Bender                           Christopher Hall
                                   

Holly Blakey                          Sarah Luscombe
                                   

Kate Chisholm                       Talia Ould
                                   

Aimee Craft                            Naomi Reynolds
                                   

Lisette Foster                                    Rebecca Sewell

 

Blue Elephant Theatre

 

10-21 November 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ary Couzens

A review by Chad Armitstead for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

It almost seems a bit cheeky of choreographer Sebastian Rex to relegate an imposing piece of art like Beethoven’s entire third symphony to the status of his canvas.  Rex’s ambition, however, proves heroic.

The choreography in God Cried Woof admirably avoids being overshadowed by the formidable character and history of one of Beethoven’s masterpieces.

Originally dedicated by Beethoven to Napoleon, by the time Symphony No. 3 was published and Napoleon had declared himself emperor, it bore the cryptic dedication “composed to celebrate the memory of a great man.”  Napoleon’s self-coronation left Beethoven feeling the leader had betrayed everything for which he had claimed to stand—and it apparently left the composer less than keen on having Napoleon’s name anywhere on his work.

Rex has dedicated this hour-long modern dance exploration of nihilism and hedonism “to the memory of a great humanity.”  Beethoven was celebrating the heroic individual.  Rex celebrates the heroism of a humanity who perseveres in finding ecstasy despite the persistent suspicion that all beliefs, experience and joy could, in truth, be meaningless.

Mr. Rex and company create a striking evening.  Though it’s quite obvious that the dancers in the group are accomplished in their discipline and technique, capable of immense balletic control, they never allow this to limit the piece. 

Rex’s courageous choreography shuns symmetry for truth.  Instead of striving to impress with technique and tableau, Rex’s group exposes the brutal truth of living.  They give us bodies that are often hunched over, bent into shapes that are wrenching or repressed, not beautiful in the classic sense.  In doing so, they achieve a sort of truth in storytelling and give the moments of real beauty more weight.

Every audience member will likely have a different take on the meaning of Rex and company’s piece, but some of the choreographer’s themes are quite clear.

Dressed in costumes (designed by Helena O’Nions, constructed by Rosalind Bolton and Rebecca Prince) that look like uniforms torn to reveal gaping wounds, both the choreography and design seem to celebrate and lament the constant injury that is living.  The dancers’ occasionally smiling faces and exuberance seem to suggest a heroic implication: as human beings, we celebrate not just despite our wounds, but because of them.

Employing ballet, modern dance (an admittedly broad term) techniques and contact improvisational influences, along with a strong penchant for narrative, the company creates some stunning images that explore man’s complex relationship with the gods he creates—among them sex, power and the violence to which we often resort in their worship.

If one interprets the not-subtly phallic sceptre/baton in Rex’s choreography as a symbol of ambition and authority derived from man-made gods, some interesting themes emerge.   In Rex’s world, no matter the belief system, all exercises of authority from synthetic gods seem to lead to similar results.  No matter which set of beliefs is in operation, themes of violence, sexual exploitation and cannibalism (figurative or literal?) seem to emerge in the piece.

Many of the most memorable images seem to focus on sexual politics; particularly the way authority and sex seem to be eternally and intrinsically bound together. 

While one can’t put a fine point on Rex’s explicit intent, if any, a recurring theme of innocent play evolving into sex and ultimately violence emerges.  And it helps create a brilliant moment.  One of the dancers stands above another who looks to be dead.  At first lamenting her counterpart’s death, the dancer begins to animate the other dancer’s lifeless body like a puppet.  A dance begins between them.  While the one remains seemingly limp and horizontal, the other achieves the illusion of making the corpse dance in what becomes a display of the grace of even the lifeless human body.  Though it may sound a bit off when described, it’s breathtaking to watch.

Though the show features a number of fine solos, Rebecca Sewell seems to be the principal soloist (suggested by choreography and costuming), though it’s difficult to tell, as solos aren’t individually credited.  Sewell brings a formidable intensity to the piece with her relentlessly precise, detailed technique.

Perhaps Rex and his company’s greatest achievement is that without a word ever being spoken, one can’t help but feel like there is a conversation happening between dancers and audience.  While there is certainly a wealth of classical training at play in the company, the movement speaks in the more accessible language of storytelling.  They achieve the precision of ballet without its stricture: they borrow ballet’s narrative form, shunning its obsession with symmetrical tableau.

Sebastian Rex and company create an evening that engages the senses and coaxes the mind into the fray.  Visually equating sex, power, subjugation, joy and despair as equal parts of being human, the company exudes a raw, youthful energy and defiance.

With Beethoven driving the meter, Rex bends bodies into shapes that are at times uncomfortable, beautiful and heroic.  He creates an intimate conversation that feels much bigger than the space it occupies.

 

 

£9, £6.50 concessions

£4.50 Southwark residents

www.blueelephanttheatre.co.uk

 

 

 

 

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