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The Wapping Project: Ride and Stairworks – Protein

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Choreographers: Luca Silvestrini and Bettina Strickler

The Wapping Project is 20 years old and this 25-minute anniversary film celebrates both the originators of the dance company and the Wapping Hydraulic Power Station where much of the work was staged until 2013. In collaboration with Woolwich Works, a double bill of pieces Ride and Stairworks are streamed for free on the Protein website for ten days.

Choreographer Luca Silvestrini provides an emotional five-minute introduction which includes a tribute to founder of The Wapping project, Jules Wright, whose influence Silvestrini outlines through an explanation of the two dances chosen for this celebration, as well as the developmental history of the company. Also interesting is a brief discussion of how the physical characteristics of the Power Station building were used in the choreography and the staging of works in what became a multi-purpose arts venue.

This background certainly helps to shape the audience’s understanding of the two characterful dances we are then shown. First is Ride, a 2008 theatrical experience devised and performed by Charlotte Broom and Omar Gordon with choreography by Silvestrini. Staged in the round in a small racecourse enclosure, this encounter between a jockey and a fashionable female spectator shifts in mood and pace.

Even 12-years on this is an astounding piece of work, filled with a drama and darkness that belies the cartoon glamour of the scenario abuzz with the sounds of race commentary and the crowd. But what begins as an even partnership between the dancers soon evolves into something much more complicated as the rough American Smooth-meets-Charleston style, using big lifts and a comedy heaviness, becomes far darker.

Gordon as the jockey uses the horsewhip to control the partnership, initially to connect to Broom but increasingly to chivvy or even strike her. The movement and tone also become progressively more violent, the jockey starts to grab and manhandle his partner as the young spectator seems to morph into his horse, a relationship between rider and animal emerges that mirrors the synchronicity and contention of the period of the race before, victorious, he abandons her.

The second piece is quite different and a favourite of Wright’s – Stairworks from 2001, choreographed by Silvestrini and Bettina Strickler in the restaurant of the Power Station that reflected contemporary concerns about Foot and Mouth. Interrupting the meals of initially bemused customers, a tannoy News at 10 announcement links the disease to chefs handling meat, announcing a cull that unfolds in dance form.

Set to music by Vivaldi there is initially a lightness to this piece that uses a set of stairs visible only through two doorways at different levels. The absence of a full view allows the dancers to emerge as if from nowhere, using the rails and depth to appear to be throwing themselves backwards, floating into view and leaping into each other’s arms. The obscured vision of the watcher adds to the illusion as eight dancers crowd together in a relatively small space.

Colloquially known as ‘boys in towels’ the later phases of this dance changes tone, using a choral soundtrack to focus on a lead dancer being moved around by overlapping bodies, before returning to the stairwell for a final confrontation and ejection. Are these heavenly bodies or something more sinister?

After two decades, it is easy to see why The Wapping Project caused such a stir with its site-specific choreographic choices and brief but vivid storytelling. Still provocative and complex, these works seem to spring from the air before leaving the space almost unchanged except in the memory and legacy of this fine company.

Available here until 29 November 2020

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The Reviews Hub London is under the editorship of John Roberts.The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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