United Kingdom Various composers, Beauty of the Beast: Company Chameleon, The Place, London, 18.11.2014 (J.O’D)
Eryck Brahmania, Lee Claydon, Thomasin Gülgeç, Anthony Missen, Theo Fapohnda, Daniel Phung
Choreography: Anthony Missen
Music: Original music by Miguel Marin & Kevin Lennon; pre-recorded music Johann Sebastian Bach, Wilson Simonal, Sizzla, Ocote Soul Sounds
Lighting: Yaron Abufalia
Costume: Emma Bailey
Dramaturg: Andrew Loretto
Company Chameleon’s Beauty of the Beast starts with the beauty: a dappled light, three male dancers with bare torsos performing delicate, synchronised movement (to music by Bach) under it. And one of the dancers is Thomasin Gülgeç, who danced in this manner (and in dappled light) all the way through Russell Maliphant’s Afterlight (Part One) at Sadler’s Wells this year and last. But the music stops almost as soon as it has begun. The dance is interrupted by another man (Anthony Missen) who wears a quilted leather jacket and a beanie, and who walks to the centre of the stage. In a light that is no longer dappled, he turns to look in disbelief or with disdain at the three other men.
November has been a month for men in dance. ‘MEN IN DANCE’ says the cover of the current issue of Dancing Times, under a photograph of two dancers from BalletBoyz: theTALENT. Anthony Missen is one of the choreographers Paul Arrowsmith interviews in the article inside. ‘Missen’s subject matter comes first,’ Arrowsmith writes, ‘before any idea of how to express it.’ The subject matter of Beauty of the Beast is male groups, or male gangs – ‘strength, camaraderie, vulnerability and hostility’. The leather-jacketed Missen is a ‘leader’. Gülgeç and fellow dancer Eryck Brahmania have to earn his approval through their ability to move in ways that are often not beautiful.
In its movement, the piece constantly surprises, and in its early stages (intentionally) amuses. Gülgeç, Brahmania and Lee Clayden, the three main dancers (apart from Missen himself) are compelling to watch. They are joined by two apprentice dancers (Theo Fapohunda and Daniel Phung) for the ‘crowd’ scenes. Less successful are the words (mostly spoken by Missen) and the way the different set pieces of movement are put together. But it is when the cast, as a gang, are shouting ‘Shoot them all!’ that the young audience at The Place responded most vigorously – not with shock (as you might expect), but with foot-stamping delight. That shocked me.
Men as football supporters, boxers, disco-dancers, dogs and apes; men facing the audience in a line with one hand thrust into the waistband of their trousers – the images are strong, lit out of a surrounding darkness by Yaron Abulafia. The piece lacks shape but is memorable for its performances and its intense solos and duets. The pale, troubled-looking Gülgeç (one of those dancers whose whole body is expressive) spins horizontally in the air before Missen catches him. Spotlit by four of the other men, Claydon performs a final solo that seems to reveal the insecurity which everything before has been designed to hide. In his near nakedness, this tall, strongly-built dancer resembles a figure descending into hell on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, or Hogarth’s rake in Bedlam. And it is Missen again, the leader, who appears almost diabolically at the end, with the male armour of shirt and suit for Claydon, rising from a foetal position, to put on.