United Kingdom, Joe Moran, Arrangement, Greenwich Dance, London, 15.11.2014 (J.O’D)
Dancers: Andrew Hardwidge, Samuel Kennedy, Erik Nevin, Christopher Owen, Alexander Standard, Giannis Tsigkris
Choreographer: Joe Moran
Producers: Helen Holden, Erin Johnson
Lighting Design: Beky Stoddart
Costume: Ksenia Vashchenko
Premiered as part of a triple-bill at The Place in May, Joe Moran’s Arrangement has since then toured the UK. It returned to London last night for the final performance of the tour (and the first in which it was the only work on the programme). Six months ago I described the piece as ‘a good-humoured inspection of “overblown masculinity”’ (with the last two words borrowed from The Place’s programme notes). After a second viewing, I think it still is that. But if, through its movement, Arrangement makes the audience laugh, it also leaves us thoughtful.
Human males, according to the historian Walter Ong, ‘tend to feel [their] environment as a kind of againstness, something to be fought with and altered’. Almost the first thing these six performers do, after bursting in a group through the double doors of Greenwich Dance’s Borough Hall, is to arrange themselves into a knot of pushing/pulling arms and legs. Fight? Rugby scrum? There are elements of both, but the men disperse peaceably. The solo that follows becomes a duet in which one partner seems to want to catch, or hinder, the movement of the other. A third man starts to push the second man away. Soon, five men are standing up to each other while the first resolutely continues his dance. The result is another knot of bodies, one that rolls this time to the side of the stage.
‘Good!’ one man then repeats, in different registers, as he stands facing the audience. ‘Bad!’ he says in a different voice. Still repeating these two words he lays down on the floor. The other men place themselves, like mattresses, on top of him. It is the ‘arrangement’ that provokes most amusement, the one in which all six move in their piled-up state around the floor. The laughter continues as the men adopt handstand positions, their feet against a wall (or in the case of the Borough Hall, the closed shutters of a bar). Maintaining this posture they move sideways around each other, repeating the same two words.
Laughter turns to occasional discomfort during the subsequent question-and-answer session. Alone or in pairs the men stand bravely exposed before the audience. Their colleagues, who sit on the floor at the front, begin the questions. After some painful silences, the audience catches on. ‘Do you enjoy each other’s smell?’ one woman asks. ‘What did you want to be when you were growing up?’ another says. (Women asked most of the questions.) The men reply with seemingly bashful, often humorous good grace. Except, that is, for the last. He shocks everybody by not answering at all. (And he was asked such nice questions.)
From words the men go back to movement of an apparently improvisational nature. Each one develops a ‘dance’, performed simultaneously, in which their gestures come to look strange or dysfunctional. This may be in response to the preceding questions which have, in a way, tried to pin the performers down. The closing solo is by the man who would not speak. It begins with a demonstration of his unsettling ability to fold himself over himself, as if hinged at the waist. Six months ago, for some reason, I thought this solo ‘went on too long’. Last night, it seemed a fitting, solemn, and rather mysterious end: this man, on his own, extending his male arms and legs frontally and obliquely in a silence in which you could have heard a pin (or mobile phone, or plastic glass of beer) drop.