Virginia Woolf Inspires De-Edwardianised Dance Drama

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Like Rabbits:  Lost Dog and Lucy Kirkwood, The Place, London, 10.10.2014 (J.O’D)

Ben Duke and Lucy Kirkwood - Like Rabbits (photo by Benedict Johnson)
“Lost Dog and Lucky Kirkwood – Like Rabbits” (photo by Benedict Johnson)

Performers: Louise Tanoto and Ben Duke
Light and set design: Jackie Shemesh
Costume design: Holly Waddington
Rabbit suit hair design: Susanna Peretz

Music: Joalz, Very Upstairs of you; Mary and the Boy, Fuck me; Joalz, Out of My System; Josephine Baker, Deux Amours, Bora Yoon and Ben Frost STCTS; Dakota Suite, A Quietly Gathering Tragedy (Hauschka Remix); Brian Harnetty, Silent City

In their dance theatre adaptation of a short story by Virginia Woolf, premiered in Brighton in May, award-winning playwright Lucy Kirkwood and choreographer-dancer Ben Duke use few words and put the choreography at the service of the drama. The aim, Kirkwood said in the hour-long pre-show talk, was to ‘de-Edwardianise’ and ‘de-middle class’ the original. The young married couple in Woolf’s Lappin and Lapinova become a man and a woman who meet in a bar. Like the characters in the story, though, they create a fantasy world (sexual, but not only that) in which he is King of the Rabbits and she Queen of the Hares.

The movements at first are everyday ones. The woman (Louise Tanoto replacing Ino Riga due to illness) sits smoking a cigarette, looking bored. The man (Ben Duke) struts about and thrusts his hips to catch her attention. Back at her flat their overt posturing shifts gear when the woman reveals the bodysuit she is wearing under her dress (its fur very much a secondary sex characteristic), and gives the man a similar bodysuit to put on. Both now have access to a different kind of movement vocabulary. They sniff, with twitching noses, around each other’s bodies. They stand, or lie, one behind the other. They are not often face to face. But for the man it is still a sexual game. The woman never quite loses her bored, unsatisfied expression. At one point, she lifts the man’s forearm with both hands, moving it aside as if it were an object rather than part of another person.

It is she who speaks first, deciding after sex what name to give her fantasy partner. Rejecting the French and the Italian, she settles on the English-sounding ‘Lappin’. When it is the man’s turn he recites (in a middle-class voice, it has to be said), as if on the phone some weeks into their relationship, a list of the quotidian and the banal: ‘bin bags, and pitta bread, and some of that weird cheese’. As they sit together, looking offstage at the gathered members of his family during a social occasion, the woman’s arm begins to adopt the shape and position of a seated rabbit’s front leg.

During the pre-show talk, Anna Snaith from Kings College London said that the use of animals in her work gave Virginia Woolf ‘another purchase on experience’. This is what happens, next, for the man and woman in Like Rabbits. Having pretended to be rabbits for the purposes of sex, they now become them in a way that seems liberating for both. There is a sense of freedom, equality and fun in the way they leap around and over each other. However, as Snaith says of the original story, the fantasy is ‘precarious’. As if writer and choreographer could not reach an agreement, Lucy Kirkwood and Ben Duke give their piece the story’s devastating ending (through language) some time before the actual, and less devastating, ending (through gesture). All the same, they and Louise Tanoto (whose inevitable moments of uncertainty may have added an extra layer of ‘otherness’ to her performance) sustain the dramatic power to the final fade out.

John O’Dwyer

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