Review: (Wo)men and me, Blue Elephant

“Tu vois, je suis pas un homme
Je suis le roi de l’illusion
Au fond qu’on me pardonne
Je suis le roi, le roi des cons”

I’m not completely opposed to dance shows, but at the same time I very rarely book for them off my own bat. I prefer to go to shows that other people have picked and (hopefully) get swept along by their enthusiasm. Such it was with (Wo)men and me which also allowed me to tick another of my previously unvisited fringe venues, the Blue Elephant in Camberwell, which is another of my new local theatres. That the last dance show my friend had seen was the somewhat controversial and extremely naked Un peu de tendresse bordel de merde! at Sadler’s Wells should have rung an alarm bell for me, but more of that later.

(Wo)men and me is a double bill by French performance maker and choreographer Tonny A ostensibly exploring androgyny and psychological identity. Or to my untrained eye, it was men dancing in pants, or at least once it got started. The first piece, AR-men, a duet between Nick Smith and Jean Magnard, took a long time to break out of the set-up for the concept. The two men in boxer shorts lay under a giant plastic sheet as a video played, a prison-guard type figure then ordered them to move around and finished by taping their bodies to the floor as another video played which began to stretch the patience. But once the business of actual dancing started, Smith and Magnard slowly breaking free, discovering their bodies and ultimately each other, I rather enjoyed the exploration of masculinity, suggesting a fast track through evolution through to a celebration of gay love.

The second piece, Women in Me, was more problematic for me. A solo piece performed by Tonny A, of several short routines that were structured around a contemporary female pop soundtrack, looking at a man rediscovering his innate femininity by casting off preconceived social and sexual identities to find his true self. And it was a (literally) nakedly personal performance, Tonny A pushing himself past any physical limitations and stripping all artifice away. But basing his movement around pop songs meant that it was all very disjointed (although it was nice to indulge in some French music too – more people should know who Zazie is!), the transitions between sections awkwardly handled and little sense of a continuous thread of exploration.

There were a couple of nice sections, Kylie’s ‘Sensitised’ and Mylène Farmer’s ‘Fuck Them All’ were my favourites, but as the last item of clothing was shed and the last part of the evening danced fully nude, it was hard to see how much femininity was being explored in the face of such obvious masculinity – it was a contrast too hard for me overcome and quite frankly, PJ Harvey’s ‘Down By The Water’ will never sound quite the same! As the performer approached the audience area, whipping a pair of braces on the floor repeatedly, I had unfortunate visions of something similar to this happening (you can just make out the unimpressed look of my friend in the top left!) but boundaries were observed here, for which I am eternally grateful.

In the end, it wasn’t really for me. There wasn’t quite enough content that I found engaging enough to keep me hooked in a genre that I’m not entirely gripped by anyway, nor were the performances so breathtakingly amazing that I thought I simply must see more dance. But ultimately, this isn’t so much a reflection on the performers as on my own preferences.

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 11th June

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