This is my first live performance review since the theatre/venue doors closed and the lights went out on stages across the country (and the world). It was a pleasure to be back in one of my favourite theatres again and just waiting for that magical moment when the stage curtain rises, the stage lights go on and that magic of an empty space being transformed into something very different is just about to happen.
Rosie Kay Absolute Solo II is the latest work from an innovative dancer and choreographer with an impressive body of work to her name over the years, and this new show both celebrates 21 years since her first solo show and in many cases re-examines some of that work with fresh eyes and thought.
This show lasts roughly one hour and features three works.
“Artemis Clown”. Set against a diverse musical soundtrack, this 15 minute work looks at the complex layers of performance as a female artist searching for truths in the persona of a clown. This is a journey expressed through the language of dance, and the range of emotions and colours that Rosie Kay can take us through as an audience make it clear that dance is not a silent language; we hear it, but we hear it in our hearts. For some reason this performance made me often think of Rosie as a Victorian child’s doll getting picked up and played with by some unseen child.
“Patisserie”. This performance is actually archive film footage of Rosie Kay’s first ever solo show at the Edinburgh Festival in 1999. Here we can see the birth of “the clown” in performance as the very questions of what a woman is expected to look like and conform to are raised… “We all have to look our best…don’t we?” For some reason I kept hearing Smokey Robinson singing “Behind A Painted Smile” over this short film.
The disturbing fact is that the questions that Rosie is raising about women conforming to a stereotyped sexualised image in 1999 have not been dealt with by society at all and, if anything, 21 years on are worse than ever as the relentless media machine continues to promote all too often only one image of women. The pressure is now coming from everywhere and often targeting a younger and younger age group to conform to often unrealistic ideals of what and who they should be.
“Adult Female Dancer”. Like many people (not just in the performing arts), the past 18 months or so have been a time for reflection and contemplation for Rosie Kay. This new 30 minute work is the result of not only this, but also the reflection of a life in dance, and it is at times a brutally honest exploration of not only what dance means to her, but also what her identity as a woman means to her, an identity which clearly is not just in her head, but in her whole body. Dance, as we learn from Rosie, was instinctive to her at a very early age, almost like breathing, and again, over the soundtracks of her choice for this work, Marc Bolan’s line of “I danced myself right out the womb” from “Cosmic Dancer” just kept playing on a loop for me as I watched this show.
If you ever wonder why dancers dance, the answer is here too. Dancers dance because they simply have to. No other reason.
There is a connection between the first Absolute Solo and this work and many of the same questions are being asked here but with a very different imagery. Even the title of the work is conflicting with a stereotype in name here…has Rosie Kay finally found herself here?
“Adult Female Dancer” is in the end an exploration of the highs and lows, the light and the darkness of Rosie Kay the dancer and the human being and one of my favourite parts of this work was towards the end set to the music of Patti Smith performing Gloria (maybe because I remember watching Patti Smith perform this live many years ago). The words are again important here and the lyrics of this song seem to be perfect for this work.
As noted in the programme, this show is dedicated to Rosie’s father Stefan Kay who died earlier this year.
Note. I have titled this review as “HONEST”. That is my one word immediate response to it. Live theatre/performance is just starting to take its first few steps out of the darkness and into the lights again on stage and this, for me, is not the time for using an arbitrary star system to judge any performance work.
Review (c) Tom King 24th July 2021
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