Touch Wood, The Place, London

Under-preparedness is every other dance season's worst enemy, but this bold venture is making a virtue of the work's new-born energy

Reviewed,Jenny Gilbert
Sunday 16 September 2007 00:00
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'Warning", read the small print on the flyer. "The evening may not contain nudity". Either this is an in-joke about expectations of modern dance, or a nervous afterthought on the part of The Place. Having flagged up its new season with tastefully shot images of bodies in the buff, was it afraid people would walk out if they didn't get their full quotient of jiggly bits? In the event, only one contributor – the bold and brilliant Colin Poole – took his brief at its word and discarded his briefs. Others interpreted it more loosely. Impressed by the energy and freshness of work emerging from a recent research project, The Place has tried to catch that excitement by doing away with some of the more ponderous elements of mounting a show. "Each unique night comes together at the last minute" is the Touch Wood season's curious boast, as if that weren't most performers' worst nightmare. Why bother to rehearse if rough-and-not-quite-ready gives things more of a kick?

As it turned out, none of the first night's offerings lacked polish, though the unrehearsed grin on the face of the wondrously named and gloriously coltish Temitope Ajose-Cutting – taking the lead in her own spirited girl-power workout – suggested she was hugely relieved about something. Whatever it was, the piece was packed with engaging incident, neatly brought off. The sprung-heeled quintet leapt and strode and dodged in chic black frocks like synchronised blackbirds assembling on a wire. They also used the frocks' sculptural cut to intriguing effect, ducking inside a high neckline, or stretching against the grain. Added interest came from a three-piece rock band whose unwavering eye-contact with the dancers created a superb impression of spontaneity – an example of how live music can genuinely enliven dance.

The shortest and sweetest item was a duet by Jin-Yeob Cha, comprising nothing much more than a diagonal stroll by a man with an umbrella, Cha crouching at his heels – his dog, perhaps, or alter ego. The single coup de theatre that made the whole thing sing was the impression of rain splashing off the opened brolly in a spectacular golden halo . It was only at the interval that the crunch underfoot revealed the trick: couscous, released from an upturned plastic bottle wedged on the umbrella's spike.

A solo by Zoi Dimitriou at first promised similar charm, but stumbled on a miscalculation. We simply couldn't hear her spoken text. By contrast, Shobana Jeyasingh's contribution left nothing to chance. In fact I'm sure I've seen an earlier incarnation. But, wow, it's sophisticated stuff, subsuming elements of Indian bharata natyam – its lightning speeds and warrior stance – into flickering, digitally inspired shapes that seem to shift faster than the human body was designed to do, while keeping a sphinx-like cool.

But it was Colin Poole, tout nu, that got my vote. Very well, said his steady gaze, take a good long look. Am I not magnificent? Yet how little it takes for me to make you feel uneasy. And yes, watching a naked man play at being a tiger, swishing its rump, then a crocodile, then Anna Pavlova's dying swan, boureeing to Gladys Knight and the Pips, did indeed nudge me out of my comfort zone.

The Place, London WC1 (020 7121 1100) to 6 Oct.

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