Dance that flickers and dies: ŻfinMalta Dance Ensemble

Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, London
February 10, 2017

Charlotte Kasner

And the Award for The Gratuitous Mention of Donald Trump goes to… ŻfinMalta Dance Ensemble. This is a new company, only two years in existence so an international visit is quite ambitious. They have some interesting young dancers but, on this outing at least, they were not well served by their choreographers, artistic director Marvin Khoo and former Nederlands Dans Theater dancer Iván Pérez.

The evening opened with Home by Khoo, though partly devised by the company (it shows). It desperately needs some objective guidance. If the interesting moments were extracted, the very long hour would be reduced to 10-15 minutes. Ostensibly it follows the life of a young man, danced by Jure Gostincar, a good actor/dancer, from birth. Unfortunately, it fizzles out, presumably when he ‘reaches’ his actual age.

Home is a curiously old-fashioned piece: left bank 1950s existentialism (all black costumes with only Gostincar wearing white underpants and shirt) meets Theatre of Cruelty. Although there are women dancers with whom Gostincar interacts and even flirts, this is very much a gay male take on the world. The woman are blanks. Only one stands out, and she only because she is reduced to a bitchy, repetitive laugh. The company don black clowns’ noses for no apparent reason, giving it another flavour, European clowning, always a niche taste.

ZfinMalta Dance Ensemble in Home by Mavin KhooPhoto Darren Zammit Lupi
ZfinMalta Dance Ensemble in Home by Mavin Khoo
Photo Darren Zammit Lupi

The set comprises a bare stage with the now clichéd dangling bare lamps. Underwear and a few jackets are strung round the walls. Someone waves a torch around. The sound, excruciatingly loud in places, is mostly electrical buzzing and popping interspersed by an eclectic mix of largely forgettable pieces. At one point, a period (1920s/30s maybe, it was hard to tell) song is played, which at last gives the cast had something worth dancing to.

The choreography is tedious and repetitive. It is as if a bunch of adolescents were let loose in a room and allowed to play crass jokes on each other whilst vitalising like simians and sulk a bit about their relationships. Everything repels, lovers are picked up, dropped and spurned. There are interesting moments, but like the lights, they flicker and die. It was a relief when it finally ground to a halt.

There are odd voice overs of the ‘I went to a club and played the game of love’ ilk and this is where they took the opportunity to wave their anti-Trump flag, just to show they could, I guess. ‘Just like Trump, we build walls’ or some such sentiment. As pointless and rootless a reference as the rest of the work.

The second half, Kick the Bucket, a male duet by Pérez, is no more rewarding than the first. At least it is mercifully short at about 20 minutes. At the time, and probably influenced by my take on the first piece on the title, that the men had picked each other up in a club, had only partially consensual sex, before the big guy murdered the little guy. In all honesty, I didn’t really care. Reading the brief programme note later, I learned it was supposed to be an examination of the meaning of life. The notes are bizarre. “Is man conscious of his own existence?” they ask. Well, obviously. There’s more in the same vein, just as meaningless. Perhaps something got lost in translation.

If ŻfinMalta return, it is to be hoped that they are better served by the works presented, especially the women.