Seven dancers spinning on platforms while artfully disrobing is the latest project from an innovative dance company, as David Whetstone reports.
THE dance company BalletLorent has presented us with many memorable spectacles over the past 10 years or so – but this month it just might put all previous efforts in the shade.
The company, founded by choreographer Liv Lorent, will make its first appearance at The Sage Gateshead to premiere Designer Body, which will feature seven dancers – four women, three men – performing on revolving platforms for 50 minutes.
Billed as “an intimate celebration of the body transformed and a revelation of absolute vulnerability”, it is actually quite hard to see how the dancers will reach the end of the piece without taking leave of their lunch. Chronic dizziness, at the very least, is surely part of the package?
To add to the pressure on the dancers, they will start the dance dressed to the nines in costumes designed by Paul Shriek and end it as nature intended, stark naked on their platforms, which, according to the flyers, will reach speeds of 20 revolutions per minute.
Liv has it all worked out – and she has complete faith in the dancers, most of whom have worked with her for years. But this is also a collaboration with fashion designer Shriek, who grew up in Ashington and made a big splash after graduating from the renowned fashion school at Newcastle Polytechnic (before it became Northumbria University).
“We have been working together since 2000 and I think we value and respect each other,” says Liv.
“Paul has a great way of realising visual concepts and adding glamour. He is very intelligent with colour and you can see that in Anglemoth (another BalletLorent work, which premiered at Dance City in 2006 and has recently been on tour).”
Liv says the team she has gathered around her in the making of Designer Body – also including lighting specialist Malcolm Rippeth – all use the human body as their living canvas. “They are people who are saying, ‘Yes, you are beautiful, but I can make you even more so. I can accentuate you, love you, make other people see you though my eyes’.
“That’s what Paul does and what I do. I’ve always been fascinated by that kind of relationship. The turntables came out of my previous work, La Nuit Intime. We had some slow moving turntables which I enjoyed very much. We also enjoyed the fact that we could make them go faster, up to 20rpm.”
Liv says she has always loved kaleidoscopes, watching the patterns created by tumbling chips of coloured glass. “It’s a similar effect that you get if you have seven dancers rotating in these fantastic costumes. It’s just beautiful, so beautiful. Dance is often about the patterns you see in things, like the corps de ballet and the choreography of Busby Berkeley.”
The North-East electronic group Zoviet*France has been commissioned to create a score which will also evoke the sounds of those little music boxes with the rotating ballerinas. Liv says it took the dancers some time to adjust to the constantly rotating platforms but the results are “beautiful and very epic”. Paul Shriek first worked with BalletLorent on a collaborative piece called Ballet In Shriek which was premiered in the north tower of the Tyne Bridge.
Paul says: “I’ve done everything she’s done since, even when she worked with Scottish Dance. We do click but I basically tell her the truth as I see it, how something could be perceived by the audience.
“I think that’s very valuable to her because I think the dance world can be very cocooned, where they are all very supportive of one another. But I come from the real world of the fashion industry where you have to be very commercially aware and alert to what will work and what probably won’t.”
Paul, whose achievement in cracking the fashion world from Ashington has shades of Billy Elliot, says he has always had an instinct for colour, knowing which shades to go for in a particular production.
For Designer Body he looked for inspiration to Art Nouveau, up to the point when it ran into the Arts and Crafts movement. We are talking the late 19th Century and in particular figures such as the Spirit of Ecstasy which Rolls Royce appropriated as its distinctive symbol.
Bronze, suggestive of those Art Nouveau figurines with their stretched limbs and arched backs, will be one of the thematic colours of Designer Body.
Paul, being a perfectionist, told Liv that he wanted the clothes in the piece to be good enough for the catwalk – items of high fashion that people would find highly desirable. Ruefully, he says all his wonderful creations are destined to end up in a heap on the floor each night. Slowly, seductively and in unison, his garments will be shed over the course of the performance to reveal the naked body beneath – designed not by someone with scissors and pins but by God or Nature.
And no, strips of Velcro were not deployed to make for a swift exit. “Think of the noise,” says Paul, appalled at the very thought.
Characteristically, he has voiced all his reservations about the piece. Fifty minutes, he says, is quite a long time to be watching people go round and round – let alone actually doing it.
But the piece has already captured the imagination of many beyond the dance world. It has been elected to be part of British Dance Edition 2008 in Liverpool’s Capital of Culture celebrations, and may also go to a dance festival in Germany.
You can see it in Hall Two of The Sage Gateshead on January 11 and 12 at 8pm. For tickets, tel: (0191) 443-4661 or visit www.thesagegateshead.org