The Big Dance, Various Venues, London
From the steps of St Paul's to bridges and stations, dancers twirled and tangoed – bringing a little fun to the daily grind
Sunday 13 July 2008
Hey, ho, the wind and the rain ... It was a great idea on the part of Boris Johnson's office to galvanise all the capital's dance organisations into a week-long jamboree, promoting both the social and health benefits of amateur participation and the professional reach of Terpsichore. And why not have things happen on the streets, where everyone could see them for free? British weather, that's why. In the event, some of the most intriguing items on The Big Dance agenda got postponed, scaled down or simply sodden.
One felt for Shobana Jeyasingh, who had choreographed a half-hour piece for 20 students drawn from three of the capital's dance colleges, to be performed against the west entrance of St Paul's. Wednesday's two scheduled performances were rained off. But on Thursday the group braved blustery winds and threatening skies to deliver a grand, sock-you-in-the-eye sequence whose statuesque lifts and arrow-sharp poses managed to fight off the double distraction of the fabulous masonry above, and the lure of the lunchtime sandwich.
Jeyasingh had adapted her style cleverly to this vast, stone stairway, employing deep, tremolo lunges and warrior-like, t'ai chi stances to use all the different levels at once.
Several individuals stood out – one of them a Josephine Baker lookalike with extraordinary limbs and an hourglass waist, whom I expect to be seeing much more of. What I don't expect to experience again is the weirdly transgressive thrill of hearing club Asian beats from huge speakers parked on Christopher Wren's front steps.
Earlier in the week, things got off to a spooky start as scores of couples, plugged into tango music no one else could hear, smooched on the concourses of several London stations. "Tango Commute" was the brainchild of Thomas Lindner, a tango lover keen to demonstrate the art of "hugging musically", as he rather quaintly puts it. Taking place on seven bridges and seven stations, the project was also a peaceable way of marking the anniversary of the 7 July bombings. But its main purpose, like "flash mobs" and silent discos, was to inject some spontaneous fun into the daily grind.
A "Tango Commute" website supplied the volunteer dancers' brief: "Do not crowd with other dance couples, do not obstruct the commuters you want to inspire"; and, crucially, "dance between 6pm and 7pm compassionately and connected [sic] on 7 July". On the evidence of Waterloo, where I myself spotted seven couples making small pools of space on the jostling concourse, some with rapt expressions, some essaying flash, spaghetti-legged manoeuvres, that's exactly what they did.
At the Natural History Museum at teatime on Thursday, contemporary dancer Laura Doehler of h2dance effected a more flamboyant public disruption. Initially posing as a museum visitor admiring the diplodocus skeleton in the foyer, she gradually shed her inhibitions (and many of her clothes), to assume the perambulatory traits of various mammals and invertebrates, finally ascending the grand staircase to deliver an ape-like farewell flourish: a trium-phant beating of her chest.
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