François Chaignaud & Cecilia Bengolea: TWERK

Posted: March 6th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on François Chaignaud & Cecilia Bengolea: TWERK

François Chaignaud & Cecilia Bengolea, TWERK, Lilian Baylis Studio, March 5
UK première

Élisa Yvelin, Alex Mugler, Cecilia Bengolea (horizontal), François Chagnaud and Ana Pi in TWERK

Élisa Yvelin, Alex Mugler, Cecilia Bengolea (horizontal), François Chagnaud and Ana Pi in TWERK (photo: Jean-Marie Legros)

TWERK, or to call it by its full, willfully punctuated name, altered natives’ Say Yes To Another Excess — TWERK, is a riot of the senses: visually vibrant, aurally dubbed, sexually provocative, intellectually wicked, it’s all there: an off-the-wall experiment in writing dance from a purely physical perspective. As choreographers François Chaignaud and Cecilia Bengolea write in the program, the challenge for the performers in TWERK is to ‘trust dance and its expressive, brotherly, poetic, preconscious and discursive powers.’ That’s an interesting selection of adjectives, but by the end you realise the dancers have convincingly demonstrated the value of each one.

It is notable that the French ‘write’ dance whereas we talk in terms of ‘creating’ dance. I like the idea that dance can be written with a density of poetic imagery as text without words. TWERK is something of a collision of images, ideas and of history; I couldn’t help but associate Chaignaud in a crimped blonde wig, sparkly eyes and holey tights with Louis XIV cavorting at a masque and his reverence at the end is a masterpiece of elegant wit. But in between his initial appearance and his final bow, Chaignaud’s enigmatic presence, his formidable classical technique, his expressive face and leering eyes are from another century altogether. The dancers are like a band of traveling commedia dell’arte players transferred to the Ballroom Community, or performers in a lascivious Punch and Judy show for adults. This juxtaposition of fantastic imagery is what makes TWERK such a rich arsenal of visual stimuli.

Above the dancers’ heads is a tent-like framework (it is in fact the lighting rig of fluorescent tubes) that reduces the effective height of the stage and increases the stature of the dancers. Chaignaud and Bengolea spare no time entering this imaginary world; they have already begun by the time we enter the theatre. To one side DJs Elijah and Skillam (Butterz) from the London Grime scene are mixing their thunderous dance music while the five dancers are getting dizzy spinning around the white floor in wigs, wacky costumes, kneepads and socks, colliding like bumper cars at a fairground. Their arm gestures are informal, almost thrown away, and as the strain of endlessly turning takes its toll there are held breaths, blown cheeks, careering paths and tottering derailments. But it doggedly keeps going until we are completely immersed in the bodies, colours and chaotic rhythms. A blackout leads to a stroboscopic flash of Chaignaud holding his leg high to the side as he begins a devil-may-care grunge solo that has the agitation of a Polichinelle figure flinging his arms out or being flung into the air to land in the splits and includes him standing on his head and crawling off like a dog lifting his leg at every lamppost.

Costumes and makeup, for which Chaignaud and Bengolea are responsible, play a vital role in TWERK as an additional layer of immediate sensory gratification. When Bengolea in fluorescent green fluffy jacket and matching slippers dances a sultry, sexual duet with New York voguer Alex Mugler in pink pajama suit, it is not just the movement that reads but our sense of colour and form; watching the animated Élisa Yvelin’s facial expression is heightened by her exaggerated punk makeup. While the costumes themselves are a feast, the careful subtraction of parts of them during the performance is equally expressive. When all three women (Bengolea, Yvelin and Ana Pi) dance bare chested the sensuality is palpable, and when Chaignaud appears like a naughty boy without his tights it is the eroticism of Aubrey Beardsley’s drawings that comes to mind.

Each dancer has his or her moment on stage and it is an occasion to let the dance show the person rather than the other way round. There is a sense of improvisation in these solos and the dancers take pleasure in watching each other. When Ana Pi is twerking up a storm I notice Chaignaud peeking through the side curtains with a smile on his face, and when Mugler jumps on the prone Yvelin, it is Pi who is laughing at his antics.

Despite its surface of rollicking fun, TWERK has an undercurrent of tension and sensuality that derives from its investigation of and interaction with Grime music. It is visceral, full on, witty and in the best sense of the word, camp. You can’t get away from the exaggeration of posture, gesture and situation but it never dissipates into parody; there is always a ground of intellectual curiosity (in its physical form) on which the entire work is predicated. How refreshing.