Blue Elephant Theatre, London
January 25, 2023
It is an exhilarating experience to be at the R&D stage of creative art. There is heightened awareness, the excitement of the unexpected and importantly the total belief of the performers in their work. This programme at the Blue Elephant Theatre had all this and more.
Grown Men Keep Breaking My Heart is the main work of the evening danced by Joey Barton and Kennedy Junior Muntanga. Both are quality dancers with a rich vocabulary of movement to draw from but this duet, despite the bursts of virtuosic dance, is an emotional tour de force.
Two old friends meet up in the bar and very quickly their vulnerability and their coping mechanisms are on display. Kennedy, ostensibly doing better on the relationship front needs financial help. Joey who has done better for himself in business seems to have no emotional ballast and turns to alcohol as a crutch. Their light-hearted banter is like applying band aid plasters over the raw spots, but the hurt goes deep.
In movement and text, the pair relive moments when growing up; their memories of fathers and school. There is invention in the physicality to heighten the emotion. Kennedy uses the table as a physical shield and the fierce embraces where they grapple, locked together like in a rugby scrum, are telling. The scrum, so fiercely aggressive, is often the only acceptable form of close male contact for the stereotypical alpha male.
As the evening progresses, the emotional needs of the pair become more visible and less likely to be resolved. The drink flows. They dance together to the jazzy bar music their emotions well disguised, but when alone their movements are nervous and frenzied.
Finally, they dance separately, facing upstage and accompanied only by their shadows, the mood slow and melancholic. There is a brief, intense moment of close contact before they finally separate and move back to their hidey holes in the pile of junk in the corner. Thankfully, all is not bleak as tiny shards of emotional growth are visible. It’s a tough subject, a brave move to use dance to face the challenges and a positive step forward.
Two short solos open the evening. Muntanga choses a tape of the ‘self-help’ variety. The voice-over which encourages him to move from his inner self through personal space to encompass the world becomes a neat choreographic tool. In the misty lighting, he explores his close confines but as boundaries are overstepped his enjoyment in exploring the space is expressed in vibrant physicality. Encouraged to explore ‘the world beyond’ he opens the door to a small side room and makes a neat closure to the work as he switches off the light.
The second solo was by James Hall, Black Jelly Hair. His sincerity and total commitment were compelling. The lighting has its own story, the movement is spare and meaningful. There seemed to be a wealth of complex thought underpinning the movement which, while it could not be grasped in the moment, gave heft to the short work. An appealing fable of a king, a queen and a tree is spelled out on the screen and Hall ends the work standing still, his arms encircling his head. I was intrigued and would definitely like to see more.
The Blue Elephant Theatre, a 50 seat fringe theatre, was opened in 1999 in Camberwell, south-east London. It’s a nurturing and friendly space for emerging artists and a welcome addition to the dance scene.