For Only An Hour is Something Rather Memorably ‘Rich and Strange’

18/11/2018

Sardoville’s For Only An Hour with Phil Sanger: The Blue Elephant Theatre, London, 16.11.2018. (JO’D)

Phil Sanger in For Only An Hour

Performer – Phil Sanger
Produced by – Sardoville
Artistic Mentoring – Wendy Houstoun
Costume – Andrew Walker
Lighting – Jen Wren
Additional music – Donna McKevitt

As a dancer with Phoenix Dance Theatre and Yorke Dance Project, Phil Sanger was seen dutifully performing in a company and in silence on the stages of the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre and The Place. In For Only An Hour, on the stage of South London’s intimate Blue Elephant Theatre, he performs alone and he speaks.

Mentored by ‘movement/theatre’ artist, Wendy Houstoun, Sanger presents what the press release describes as a ‘pseudo-glamorous one man romp through dreams, pop culture and queer art’ that mixes personal anecdote and Polari (‘a form of theatrical slang…, used especially by homosexuals’, OED), with ‘fan kicks’ and the petite jeté.

‘Is this what you were expecting?’ Sanger asks the audience more than once over the course of the hour. ‘Is this what you came for?’ The answer might be: ‘Yes and no.’ The pseudo-glamour is there in designer Andrew Walker’s ‘glittering queer garments’: a shirt that becomes a skirt; a bomber jacket that is plain on one side and covered in orange sequins on the reverse. The ‘queer art’ is there in a bewigged Sanger’s expressive lip-synching to Angela Lansbury, Delia Smith and Whitney Houston. But the story he tells, through words and then through ‘contemporary dance’, of an injury sustained when performing the cancan on the stage of a drag club in Liverpool comes as an uncomfortable surprise. And the almost naked body that the dancer shows at the end is one that definitely does not meet expectations.

It is difficult to know what is true in the monologue and what is invented. For Only An Hour is ironic, about dance at least, in the same way that Wendy Houstoun’s Pact with Pointlessness (2015), with its ‘Dance of Nothing’, was ironic. Yet it also contains moments in which the dancer appears to remember moments of his past with sadness, and moments when he lectures the audience on hate crime against LGBTQ+ people.

Impressively fluent as Sanger is during a lengthy narrative in Polari, on one or two occasions elsewhere the words falter. Questions to the audience are met with only a tepid response. Movement, however, is always assured. With his flexible waist and musicality, the dancer shows precision and eloquence in every gesture.

Produced by Sanger and by two former colleagues from Phoenix Dance Theatre (Azzurra Ardovini and Josh Wille), the piece reaches beyond the confines of a small stage and single performer through its deftly-assembled soundtrack and sensitive lighting. Ironic as it may be, in its ‘dance as transformation’ aesthetic it follows a tradition established at the beginning of the twentieth century by dancers such as Ruth St. Denis, of whose solos dance writer, Deborah Jowitt, says: ‘one didn’t end quite as one began.’

Phil Sanger does not end For Only An Hour quite as he began. The audience doesn’t either. It might not be what you expected or what you came for, but you leave with the feeling of having experienced something rather memorably ‘rich and strange’.

John O’Dwyer

For Only an Hour will be performed at Trinity Community Arts, Bristol, on Saturday 24 November as part of IGNiTE. To book tickets click here.

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