Bicycle Ballet, Paternoster Square, London
A flat tyre can't puncture the fun
Wednesday 01 July 2009
Live performance is easily affected by injury or illness, but this was the first time I'd seen a show delayed by a puncture. Bicycle Ballet is a dance for cyclists, which does make it vulnerable to flat tyres. Some brisk repair work later, all five performers were zigzagging and circling, hopping on and off bikes.
The show was originally conceived as a mass participation event, for a hundred performers. It's now been reworked on a smaller scale for this tour of festivals and outdoor centres. Workshops, running alongside the performances, encourage local cyclists to join in.
This performance, part of the City of London Festival, took place in Paternoster Square, by St Paul's Cathedral. The roped-off performance area is a big space, but not so big for cycling. Janine Fletcher's choreography cuts between cycling and dancing around the bikes, a series of routines in different styles. Ollie Aylmer's soundtrack provides mood, cutting from orchestral music to beats and voiceovers.
The performers wear black and pale blue, marked with cycling designs – a tyre print up one leg of a pair of tights, wheels and cogs printed on shirts. They start by stripping off their protective clothing, dropping reflective jackets in striptease fashion.
Cycling together, they move in formation, switching direction or rising on the pedals. They'll even dance while riding, swinging one leg up into arabesque as they freewheel through the square, or jumping up to pose on the saddle.
The unison cycling could be pushed further; Fletcher builds up patterns, then breaks off. But she and the performers have fun with cycling sketches. A plant jumps up from the audience to learn cycling, posed on his machine then left to wobble. Another dancer balances a bicycle on his chin. All five praise their machines, bending seductively over handlebars or producing roses from under the seats.
In another sketch, the cast take on actual ballet. A woman does classical exercises with her bicycle for a barre. Instead of steadying herself, she is holding the machine upright as she goes through a traditional warm-up.
Bicycle Ballet cuts between street theatre routines and more ambitious sequences. There are jokes and poses, quick cuts between styles, designed to hold an audience of passers-by. The transitions can be choppy. Jokes are made and then abandoned; others try too hard, carefully setting up a laugh. Elsewhere, Alexander and her team make inventive use of their props, playing with bicycles in the heart of the City.
Touring until September 26. Further dates from www.bicycleballet.co.uk
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