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  • Miles Hedley


Producers routinely spend millions to satisfy the public’s apparently unquenchable thirst for special effects. Yet a simple idea that costs no more than performance fees can be spectacular, too, as Summit Dance Theatre showed so dramatically at the Laban building last week.

As choreographer Alison Curtis-Jones’s piece Drumstick reached its climax her eight dancers, swathed in haze, leapt simultaneously high into the air. When they reached the zenith of their trajectories, the lights were thrown, the stage was plunged into utter darkness and for a millisecond or two we in the audience were left with an after-image of them apparently suspended, immobile and gravity-defying, in the Stygian gloom. It was stunning – the best blackout moment I’ve seen in any theatre.

Drumstick was the opening half of a double bill of works inspired by Rudolf Laban, the father of contemporary dance. Both were created by Curtis-Jones as a sort of artistic and academic homage to him and both were danced, brilliantly, by Robert Keates, Ingvild Marstein Olsen, Verena Schneider, James Kay, Roberto Cherubini, Rachael Dixon, Vincenzo D’Aquaito and Emma Holt.

The programme described the opener as a reimagining of Laban’s 1913 work Dancing Drumstick. But really, because there is almost no archival information about the original, it was a speculative creation based on what Curtis-Jones calls “potential evidence”. To be honest, I’m not sure I know what that means – but I do know that the performance, which seemed to me to track human evolution from a seething mass of primordial instincts to autonomous sophistication within a self-reliant community, throbbed with energy and passion. It was wonderfully accompanied live by two drummers, Oli Newman and Ronen Kozokaro. And the blackout ending rightly brought the house down.

The second-half piece, called Nacht, was based on notes, drawings and Laban’s own writings about a work he developed in the late 1920s satirising Berlin’s Weimar period with its bohemian hedonism set against the rise of Nazism. Once again, the dancers were marvellous as they performed to another dazzling live soundtrack by Newman and Kozokaro, this time playing drums and piano with a fine, witty vocal by singer Natasha Hubert.

But despite the skills of the artists, Nacht lacked the intensity of Drumstick, partly, I think, because it couldn’t match the latter’s emotional depth but mostly because as a portrayal of a time that was so devastatingly captured by Bob Fosse in Cabaret it just wasn’t sleazy enough. Much as I enjoyed this tale of interwar decadence, a few more dollops of squalor would have improved it immeasurably.

Picture: Paolo Tosi

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