Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
The House of Contact is a bold and extravagant new addition to the Queer Contact festival. Producer Barry Priest has come good on his commitment to keep dance as one of the key offers in this varied festival programme. The House of Contact is an ambitious upscaling of DawN Crandell’s popular Mixed Movement event series, which is an open access improvised dance platform run periodically in Contact’s foyer performance space. Dawn herself has returned to the States so the bold step was taken of integrating a live video feed from CultureHub in NYC projected onto a large onstage screen so that Dawn could not only co-present the show with Patrick Carroll-Fogg but could participate in the improvised dance interactions via telepresence. Thanks to the massive bandwidth available on the university Oxford Road corridor this worked fantastically well with clear images and no delay.
The show opened with a choreographed vogue piece called Black Widow by Liverpool’s Darren Suarez (House of Suarez) – a dance company that is pushing the boundaries of Vogueography. Darren and his two dancers presented a crisp, edgy piece of vogue-based contemporary dance that was a good demonstration of how this club movement can be evolved to create striking dance theatre. Suarez, leather-corsetted, vogueing en pointe was stylishly impressive. Then came a vogue solo from Manchester’s own Darren Pritchard, whose slim build and weirdly long-limbs seem designed for the length, speed and precision of Vogue armography, presented with a sly Manchester take on New York attitude. Following this, with the assistance of baby Sequoia Rose, DawN pulled names from a bag to create the running order for the improvised solos to be performed to improvised vocal accompaniment by Sarah Selina and beatboxer Lyricalligraphy. This was full of potential to be appropriately fierce or fall terribly flat. On the whole this worked massively well. After warm-up improvisations from Crandell and co-host Patrick – an expressive classically-based dancer himself – Mixed Movement rebooted began. Joshua Hubbard proved to be an imaginative and well-trained dancer, refreshingly masculine and good to watch. Zinzi Minott was a diminutive bundle of joy; facially and physically expressive she responded with grace and humour to the human soundscape. Peter Grist – who performed a choreographed piece of his own work pre-show in the foyer – is always watchable: tall, elegant and charismatic. Darren Pritchard was rather limited by his decision to hold a wine glass throughout, which gave his single-arm vogue improvisation a one-dimensional air. Finally, Genevieve Say was given the oddest set of vocal sounds to deal with but she is commanding dancer with a large arsenal of movement at her disposal and a keen mind for choreography; her depth of humour and intelligence that made her improv look like a finished piece of work.
After the interval came another choreographed piece, by Alyx Steele: a Japanese-flavoured piece of dance theatre. After taking centre stage with her own take on Vogue, Alyx herself seemed a little lost among her four strikingly made-up bare-chested athletic boys, but if she can choreograph to this standard for a group then she is someone we need to see more of. Next up, was a classic Vogue-off between Darren Suarez and Javier Ninja (House of Ninja) via the live feed from New York. Suarez is commanding but Javier Ninja seems to be blessed with a New York fierceness and an unnerving ability to bend his limbs in seemingly impossible shapes that had the audience whooping with delight. With the large screen and the faultless live feed and Suarez seeming to be on screen with his partner rather than separated by thousands of miles this worked fantastically well. Next up was a couple of improvised dances. Same set up as before. First off, DawN and Patrick duetted via the live feed. Patrick making great use of the ability to present himself within Dawn’s projected movement, his ballet complementing her street-style moves. Vogue is very much a solo performance so Joshua Hubbard seemed to struggle initially to engage his partner Darren Pritchard in a meaningful duet but he took the challenge and used his considerable skill and appeal as a dancer, threw it down and took the battle with huge style and energy. Finally, Gen Say, Peter Grist and Zinzi took to the stage together. Once they found their mutual rhythm some interesting interactions started to take place, much instigated by Gen, Zinzi charmingly taking her lead at times to create some highly entertaining dance interventions. This piece somehow managed to work its way to a conclusion that showed the potential of improvisation to create intriguing narrative when the dancers have the skills to read one another and act instinctively.
The finale was Joshua, Zinzi, Darren Suarez, Peter, Gen and Patrick improvising while DawN – her baby now harnessed to her chest – freestyled, projected large across them. This created some interesting interactions as the six took the opportunity to challenge and explore one another’s styles with some entertaining – and occasionally hilarious – results.
The House of Contact was a success. Based on a tried and trusted formula – Mixed Movement – the evening took that formula and extended it, making a big ambitious show, full of technical risk. Creating a full-evening show based largely on improvisation and reliant on a seamless live sound and vision feed with large-scale projection and inter-continental interaction is courageous and confident. Ultimately, they have assembled some highly talented individuals and given them an imaginative stage to create a varied and hugely entertaining and fun show. Other festivals take note.