Kosh that stuns the senses

Dance
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The Independent Culture
AT FIRST it seems odd that a dance company should choose a name that summons images of violence - policemen's truncheons, burglars' weapons, GBH, concussion. But when you see The Kosh in action, the name seems inspired. The group's upfront, in-yer-face, theatrical acrobatics do form a kind of assault - if not a direct blow to the head, then a severe assault on the senses.

Now The Kosh has declared war on the Arts Council, following the complete withdrawal of its once substantial grant, without, it claims, any satisfactory explanation. That old whinge, you sigh, but this case demands attention. For The Kosh is taking the Arts Council to the Ombudsman. Unprecedented action. And however things turn out, blood will be spilt.

Hence its current touring show, which arrived on Tuesday at the Young Vic. Instead of the customary company of several, we are presented, defiantly, with a company of one: Sian Williams, founder member of The Kosh, and performer of extraordinary gifts. With her Charlene Atlas physique and model face, Williams can easily keep us watching for 40 minutes, and director Michael Merwitzer does not hesitate to exploit the mildly erotic potential of a woman being watched. Cerebral this is not.

We first see Williams in a neat office suit and specs, typing at speed and perched partly on a swivel chair. When she kicks off her high heels and shakes down her hair, the Lois Lane fantasy is set in train. Later, when she hoiks off her skirt and with a look of exaggerated ecstasy mounts a trapeze, the spectacle enters the peep-show zone.

Circuit Breaker purports to tell, obliquely, the story of a love affair, mixed up with circus imagery. Williams creates a circus ring before our eyes by emptying a sack of sawdust over the floor with a slow rapture that is almost terrifying in its intensity. Her contortions on and with the trapeze form the main action, displaying a strength, agility and control that would be breathtaking in itself, without the addition of a relentless spoken text. "I found you my own extravagance / Your recklessness my compass ..." says Williams, while hanging upside down by her heels. A feat, certainly, but somehow inappropriate, and mildly embarrassing.

The second piece, Upstart, is a more straightforward mix of sex and energy. Clad in an amazing outfit of violet skintight latex, Williams delivers a personalised version of flamenco to a pounding techno soundtrack. Aficionados of the Spanish dance would be horrified - the stamping and posturing is there, but the delicate hand movements are grossly parodied - but nevertheless it comes off as brazen spectacle. Sweat pours from Williams in the strenuousness of the dance, drenching her hair and spraying the surrounding space. At one level, it's phenomenal; on another, it's wet-swimsuit routine.

If audiences do not feel entirely at ease with "experimental" performance, that unease is compounded when it is delivered solo. We desperately want to like the show because it seems somehow insulting to that lone, brave, artist if we don't. Sian Williams is a rare creature, but there was a sense of stunned relief when it was all over. Koshed was the word.

The Kosh: Jackson's Lane Com- munity Centre, N6, 0181 341 4421, 7 & 8 June; MAC, Birmingham, 0121 440 3838, 9 June; and touring.

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