The Patrick Centre at the Birmingham Hippodrome
February 17, 2017
Ultimately, the only audience reactions worth having are the journeys towards, or away from, tears or laughter, and creators of any kind forget this at their peril. The fascination of modern dance lies in its efforts to extend the range of emotion explored. Without it the result is pure self indulgence.
Stepmother, the more recent creation to partner the 2007 piece, Stepfather, misses out both tears and laughter in an attempt to be new while in fact being very old fashioned. We’re in the over-familiar land of BDSM ballet, and its always the same trappings: black leather, bondage, Nazi chic, infantilism, High Church camp, indeed any kind of ritual that involves hierarchical authority and its counterpart, submission. (Cue Palestrina-type sung Latin Mass soundtrack.)
There may have been audience members to whom this was new, but it’s all been seen before. As it was, the audience was torn between the urge to laugh or take it seriously and so were left in limbo wondering whether it was funny or something else. There’s camp, and then there’s bad camp. And this is the very worst kind, taking itself much too seriously. It did raise the occasional smile, but I do draw the line at exploiting the idea of child abduction, even the suggestion of it.
Stepfather, while confrontational enough is much more grown-up and accomplished in every way. To a delightful soundtrack of obscure but very chic Mid-West, mid century-sounding records (was that Rufus Wainwright outdoing them all at one point?), the study in charmingly convincing American Gothic that is served up that would do Truman Capote proud. Here male friendship, true love and marriage and its less romantic results, and eventually incest and suicide are all played out, neatly done and charmingly presented via refreshingly original movements and gesture.
This proves there’s a place for the dark, but it’s got to be done well. Camp alone just doesn’t cut it.