For their 20th anniversary, The Cholmondeleys and The Featherstonehaughs have switched gender.
For their 20th anniversary, The Cholmondeleys and The Featherstonehaughs have switched gender. In the current tour, Lea Anderson's two groups - all-female Chums and all-male Fans - borrow each other's repertory. Flesh and Blood, a long, dark dance for the Cholmondeleys, is now danced by men, while the women dance a series of short Featherstonehaugh pieces.
There isn't a hint of camp in this performance of Flesh and Blood. The men wear heavy makeup and long dresses (by Sandy Powell) but they dance with intense, cold focus.
Steve Blake's score, played live by his band, Victims of Death, starts with a crash of drum and guitar, then slows down to something more lyrical. The six dancers lie full length, starting up in convulsive twitches, curling over on their sides, scrambling across the stage. However frantic the movement, they dance it with fixed attention. The repeating patterns look obsessive.
Many of Anderson's effects come from tiny movements. One duet is choreographed for eyes, pointing fingers, small gestures. There's an odd contrast between the churning machine structures and the neat, conversational movement. Flesh and Blood is a long piece, and these first stages are the strongest.
Casting men in Flesh and Blood emphasises the femininity of these steps. Hands stroke along collar bones, drawing attention to breasts that aren't there. Dancers sit on one hip, weight shifted to show off curves. There's a stern femininity built into the dance, and the men are admirably austere.
Dancing male roles, the women are definitely in drag. The short numbers of Double Take are mostly comic, full of Elvis impersonations, manly swagger and trilby hats. The women's hair is backcombed into extravagant quiffs. The stage itself is got up like a tacky club, withshiny tinsel curtains and bar tables.
There is something effortful about all this. Imitating men, the women aren't quite deadpan. They carry their shoulders high, huddling inside their boxy suits to suggest more masculine silhouettes. They're gruff, but not understated.
Even so, Anderson's sketches are sharp and funny. "Elvis Legs" is a compilation of Elvis dances, favourite arm and leg positions stuck together in the wrong order. For "Strangers" they prowl the stage in pairs, passing a microphone from hand to hand to sing "Strangers in the Night", voices coming and going as they spin away.
The men watch all this from the edges of the stage. For the final, "Iced Toe", each dancer launches forward in high, chorus-girl kicks. They dance frantically, with blank faces. Finally the men join in, and the whole becomes a bouncing, ironically serious chorus line.
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