United Kingdom Please Be Seated: New Movement Collective, Southbank Centre, London 11.11.2014 (J.O’D)
Performers: Clara Barberá, Navala Chaudhari, Malgorzata Dzierzon, Clemmie Sveaas, David Ledger, Daniel Riley, Renaud Wiser
Choreography: New Movement Collective
Furniture Design: Jutta Friedrichs
Costume Design: JaneJaney
Sound Design: Ben Houge
Lighting Design: Yaron Abulafia
An unsmiling woman at a desk outside the Purcell Room passed my ticket for Please Be Seated to a man beside her. He gave it back to me, along with an official-looking sheet of buff-coloured paper (the programme) on which he had stamped the title of the performance in red. Disconcerted by the woman’s manner, and by fact that some people had been told to wait in a separate area, I moved past the usher at the door and into the auditorium.
There, among a heady atmosphere of haze, upward-pointing spotlights and electronic humming, it seemed that the performance had already begun. Across boards laid out over part of the seating, a woman dancer was moving in fitful and sometimes daring response to the humming. On the stage, two men were coming forward with more boards for her to move on while another woman sat in three-quarter profile to the arriving audience. ‘Blurring the boundaries between dance, architecture, film and music,’ the programme notes said about work of the New Movement Collective (founded in 2009). Here, at least, was a blurring of performer and spectator.
This was made more obvious after a megaphone announcement, by the red-stamp official now seated among the audience, that the ‘promenade performance’ had started. A door at the back of the stage opened; the people who had been kept to one side earlier filed through it. For fifteen minutes or so they shared the performance space. It was as if addressing them that a disembodied male voice, with an American accent, said: ‘Make yourself at home…Are you cold?…Gemma’s room is over there. She’s still sleeping. Ludovic didn’t come home last night.’ Although these words are repeated shortly afterwards, this time by a woman, we never find out who Gemma and Ludovic are, or why he didn’t come home, or anything about it.
When the stage was declared ‘unsafe’ (by megaphone), and cleared of everyone but the dancers, several wooden and perspex objects on it revealed themselves to be chairs. Although in the form of flat sheets, the perspex was etched with ghostly outlines of the bentwood chair. The seven dancers (two of whom were the people at the front desk) slid under or crawled over these disquieting objects, found themselves suspended from them, or used them to make new and unusual patterns on the stage. When not doing that they performed angular solos, duets and trios involving deep bends, unexpected twists, sudden drops, and jumps that ended in falls. The music that accompanied them, for double bass or cello, was surprisingly melodic.
The asymmetric, uniform-like costumes were of stiff material in blue and brown. They suggested Russian Constructivism and Chairman Mao. Towards the end, three of the women temporarily took off the upper garments of theirs and moved with linked arms, in a half-light, their backs to the audience most of the time. ‘Why the women?’ I wondered. Perhaps it was because the backs of the men would not have been in such contrast to the straight lines of the stage, the chairs, and the Purcell Room itself.
Appropriately for a piece with the title Please Be Seated, it was a chair that signified the ending. After a particularly expressive sequence by three of them, most of the dancers had come to rest on different parts of the stage. The lights dimmed then came up again to reveal one of the men in what had become a rocking chair. There might still have been questions to ask about Gemma and Ludovic, about the razor that had made an occasional appearance, about what the whole thing meant. But there was one thing that the chilling sound of the rocking chair made clear: no further movement (and for ‘movement’, as in Stormy Weather, read ‘life’) was possible.