Gardenia, Sadler's Wells, London
Friday 01 July 2011
The performers of Gardenia aren't quite playing themselves. The latest work from Les Ballets C de la B is danced by a cast of retired transvestites, men returning to the stage after years away. They change from suits into wigs and sequins, building up to a stylised stage act. Yet very few of these characters emerge as distinct personalities. There's a Liza Minnelli, a white-gowned Hollywood blonde, but they're all blurred into the same melancholy-cabaret type.
Gardenia was inspired by a documentary about the closing of a transvestite cabaret in Barcelona. The idea came from actress Vanessa van Durme, Belgium's first transsexual, who also performs a leading role. C de la B founder Alain Platel, with director Frank van Laecke, focus on the process of transformation, with repeated onstage costume changes.
The show opens with the cast in male suits. Van Durme welcomes the audience to the Gardenia's last show, holds a minute's silence and introduces her colleagues. Her patter is cheerfully lewd: heads of state wanted this character's knickers, a German performer, during the war, "resisted everything except the Russian army".
To Ravel's Bolero, the performers undress, revealing colourful patterned frocks under their drab suits. They'll freeze in held poses, matter of fact at first, but increasingly theatrical as they shake out their skirts.
Van Durme works her poses, drawing laughs from the audience; the others are much more neutral. Most C de la B works are nakedly confessional, dancers describing or acting out their needs and neuroses. With Gardenia, Platel and Van Laecke simply put these characters on stage, with the baggage of their real history. Most remain blank.
Even the numbers are distanced. Soloists mime or sing along to Steven Prengels's music, a remix of pop, show tunes and classical music. The final number brings everyone on stage to "Over the Rainbow", played against a ticking clock.
The dancers move as if in slow motion, not quite there. It's a performance about a performance. Playing a version of their own lives, they're detached from individuality.
To 2 July (0844 412 4300)
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant