WHAT ARE FRIENDS for if we cannot lean on them? Brainstorming the notion across a myriad of popular songs, Sometimes I have to lean in … is a sheer gem of a work featuring two dance veterans who do not have dancers’ bodies any longer. It’s a work that flies deliciously in the face of stereotypes, but it’s one that reaches deep and touches deeper.
Elev(i)ate was a dance project undertaken by choreographer Athena Mazarakis in 2010. It was a spoof on the idea of a strong man, and featured Mazarakis in an improvised space beneath the staircase of the Market Theatre, lifting people off the ground. It was about working with gravity and tipping points, but on a more conceptual level, it was about the power to move individuals.
In this work performed by Gerard Bester and Alan Parker, something similar is articulated. The idea and the meaning of leaning on someone has been splayed out through songs, fabulous timing, a fantastic dollop of dance nostalgia and some glorious dead pan clowning. The two men’s interaction in their egos and their bodies, in word and movement, is wonderful to watch, and it’s a dialogue as much about words as it is about bodies in space.
And just when you think the give and take begins to tire, the dancers embark on the most majestic and humble pas-de-deux to the tune of Saint-Saëns’s The Swan, arguably the most loved movement of his Carnival of the Animals suite (1886). It’s dance which is about intimacy as it is about male gesture and the ethos of recognising the other, and it is dance to make you weep because of how it indulges in the gloriousness of ordinariness.
At this point, the work’s slapstick self-deprecation and bravado dissolves and you’re left with two men making vulnerable poetry with the humdrum nature of their bodies. It’s a work with no tricks or gimmicks, no sleight of hands brought about by technology, just two guys chewing the proverbial fat and making sense of the world around them. And of their dance dreams. And, of course, making space for a little more beauty in our world.
Sometimes I have to lean in … is choreographed and performed by Gerard Bester and Alan Parker and features creative input by Gavin Krastin (costumes), George Formby, Aretha Franking, Mahalia Jackson, Michael Jackson, Radiohead, Camille Saint-Saëns and Bill Withers (music), Gerard Bester, Gavin Krastin and Alan Parker (lighting and technical design), and Gwydion Beynon (text). It was part of the 30th iteration of Dance Umbrella, and performed on Thursday March 8 and Friday March 9 at the Wits Amphitheatre, Braamfontein. Visit danceforumsouthafrica.co.za or call 086 111 0005.
Robyn Orlin could do it. So could Steven Cohen. And the Doobie Boobies under the direction of Mark Hawkins held articulate and convincing sway on this too. What is it that Gavin Krastin and Alan Parker lack in this discipline of rough burlesque and counter-dance? Is it a depth of ironic focus? Is it a lack of pathos? Are they too young? Or too pretty? Perhaps their sense of an evolved self-mocking gravitas is not fully formed. It’s difficult to pinpoint, but their latest work On Seeing Red, push all those audience buttons of disrespect and unresolved sloppiness, while it attempts to describe a framework of counter-seriousness and misses.
Seating an adult audience on the floor is always a bad starting point. It’s ill-mannered and unnecessary and it’s curious as to why the work could not have been contained in a regular seated space. But then, the room, filled with blow up palm trees and lots of shiny purple stuff, explodes with a drunken sense of burlesque introducing karaoke, hammering drag references home with a sense of tawdry glitter and a repetitiveness that makes the opening song of Cabaret into a mantra.
From this point, however, the work degenerates into a horrid and silly miasma of sanitary towels and plastic flowers, spilled custard, burnt money, wine and blood, amongst other things. The work grapples with the idea of light years and the conflation of time and energy in a ham-handed, unconvincing way, as it steps on the toes of territorialism, offering an unsatisfactorily tiny evocation of a work they created in 2012 called Cellardoor.
That work had memorable potential: sadly On Seeing Red doesn’t exploit its gaps, but rather tramples on them. When you read the programme notes after seeing the work and need to check again if this indeed is a description of the cheap and nasty bits of self-indulgence you’ve just seen, something’s amiss.
On Seeing Red doesn’t actually make you see red or feel real anger. Complete with a blow up plastic shark that turns into a frock of sorts, a jumping castle for toddlers that is made to evoke a burning down house, a bit of Piaf and a lot of too long transitions between the work’s components, it makes you physically uncomfortable and irritated. It’s like Steven Cohen denuded of his intent and content and on happy gas. Krastin and Parker’s audiences deserve better. And I’ll never get those 45 minutes of my life back.
On Seeing Red performed as part of the Dance Umbrella 2015 at the Barney Simon Theatre, Market Theatre complex on March 5 and 6. It features concept, direction and design by Gavin Krastin, with creation by Alan Parker and Krastin and sound design by Shaun Acker and was performed by Parker and Krastin.