Words by Charlotte Heap / Pics courtesy of Rosie Kay Dance Company
What is it that makes dance beautiful to watch? The choreography, the costumes, the lighting, the music?
Rosie Kay’s Dance Company’s new show, Fantasia, which premiered at Birmingham Hippodrome’s Patrick Studio on 25th September, promised to use art and science to ‘make a work of pure joy.’
Rosie Kay Dance Company is a West Midlands based organisation headed by the eponymous Rosie Kay, a Birmingham Hippodrome Associate, and established in 2004. The company has a number of acclaimed productions in its repertoire, including MK Ultra, (which I’ve reviewed during its original run in 2017 and after its revamp in 2018), The Wild Party, Supernova and 5 Soldiers – the latter of which was performed in a real barracks. More recently, Kay was a Commonwealth Games Handover Ceremony choreographer.
Rosie Kay has developed a reputation for developing shows which challenge the audience on complex issues, without compromising on the dance experience. In researching for her new piece, Fantasia, Kay worked with neuroscientists at Denmark’s Center for Music in the Brain to explore how dance can trigger pleasure and fulfilment in the cerebrum. Kay fine-tuned her choreography for Fantasia, using this knowledge, in an attempt maximise the audience experience.
Fantasia is a performance in three parts: three female dancers explore emotions, from love to loss, through linked group and solo dances representing the sun, the moon and the earth. Composer Annie Mahtani and Kay worked with familiar pieces including Purcell, Beethoven and Bach for the show, delivering a clever contrast between classical music and modern choreography.
Dancers Shanelle Clemenson, Harriet Ellis, and Carina Howard were, at times, breath-taking: performing barefoot ballet with power, athleticism and raw emotion. The composition coupled with the intimacy of The Patrick Studio meant we could hear the dancers breathe emotional exhalations, a deliberate choice by Mahtani and Kay which added to the immersive feel of Fantasia.
The most joyful moments were enhanced by clever staging; Louis Price and Sasha Kier brought the tutu back, but exaggerated the form and added tribal prints. Under the bright light of the ‘sun’, the pirouetting dancers resembled spinning parasols on a windswept beach.
Fully-fringed silver catsuits swished and shone hypnotically in the ‘moonlight’, although a nitpicker may say that the costume change here was a few seconds too long – an empty, unlit stage does not spark joy. It was for the merest of moments, however, and Mike Gunning (Lighting Director) otherwise created dreamy reflections and shadows on the studio stage, replicating and twisting the dancers’ moves like a hall of mirrors.
The dancers weaved through a range of feelings for the audience; modern moves, frantic and frenetic, confronted us and induced discomfort as well as delight. Irreverence in dance may not please the purist – but some endearing and even cheeky moments (literally, as each dancer playfully lifts their dress to flash their bottom during the final act) brought levity and laughter from this opening night audience. Occasionally, a size disparity between the dancers caused synchronicity to slip and this dampened the fantasy – but only slightly.
Fantasia sets out to be ‘an exquisite performance of pleasure, beauty and finesse’, subverting conventional ballet to reach the audience scientifically as well aesthetically. Kay has used her signature innovation to bring ballet into the 21st century’; Fantasia isn’t pure joy but more a reminder of the scope of human emotion, and that in itself is joyful to watch.
Fantasia – Rosie Kay Dance Company
Rosie Kay Dance Company is currently touring Fantasia across the UK, running until 21st November. For more on Fantasia, visit www.rosiekay.co.uk/project/fantasia
For more from the Rosie Kay Dance Company, including further event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.rosiekay.co.uk
For more on the Birmingham Hippodrome and The Patrick Studio, including venue details and further event listings, visit www.birminghamhippodrome.com/about-us/the-patrick-studio
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