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TELEVISION Farm Fantasia (C4) Four legs good, two legs dreadful. Jasper Rees cringes on behalf of humanity at a `multi species' Sleeping Beauty
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The Independent Culture
As a critic, you are often castigated for mocking too quickly. Occasionally, though, you're given very little room for manoeuvre. When a documentary about a ballet starring farmyard animals crops up, it's a case of mock or be mocked. And for once, you can mock with a conscience cleared by the fact that the target, an animal behaviourist, eco-farmer and full-time fruitcake, has a hide of reinforced rhinoceros.

Farm Fantasia snooped at preparations for the performance of a "multi- species'' Sleeping Beauty on a farm near Dartmoor. The good fairy was played by a spaniel tourniqueted in tinsel. Sundry llamas pranced about in something approximating to unison. A pair of horses lay down and went to sleep, apparently as instructed but possibly making a valid and spontaneous critique. A monstrous bull called Castor, so named presumably because of the size of his pollex, played the king. And a couple of humans were roped in from the professional dance world, doubtless lured by the prospect of television exposure from which, it transpires, their careers may never recover.

Their choreographer was Marthe Kiley-Worthington, who lavished all her directorial ingenuity on the quadruped performers and slung comically vague instructions at their two-legged colleagues: "Now you two lie down, or a lift or something.'' The word "eccentric'', conventionally used on these occasions, is pitifully inadequate when it comes to describing her ideas about encouraging animals to express themselves. Her plan is to engender an art-form that the more professionally minded will take up.

They say that no man is an island, but meet a woman who is. She inhabits a kind of boggy paradise that she has both imagined and subdued, where man, animal and machine do the work, while woman devises dance steps for Andean pack-mammals. Marthe by name, her nature is to make others martyrs to her art.

Such machinery as there was on the farm was mostly prelapsarian. The straw for a new thatch was threshed by a hurdy- gurdy that was less Heath Robinson and more Robinson Crusoe. There was a tractor, but Mrs Kiley- Worthington confessed that she had avoided learning to operate it. This chore fell to her partner Chris. Your fairly standard loony longbeard, he was a comparatively earthbound onlooker who moaned blamelessly, `'Why's it always the bloke who has to drive the tractor?'' Some stereotyped roles in this particular animal kingdom are clearly immutable.

The voice-over tried to keep a straight face, but couldn't quite mask a snigger. As the film quietly pointed out, through images of sheep being shepherded and cattle being herded, it's possible for humankind to choreograph large groups of animals without roping in Tchaikovsky. If the well of human knowledge has been enlarged by this daft project in one indisputable way, it is because that hole in the dictionary where the collective noun for a group of llamas should be has now been filled. For future reference, it's a corps de llamas.

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