It drops some clangers, Jonathan W. Marshall says, but 100 Years of the History of Dance dazzles at times.
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Review: Joseph Simons with Adam Gardnir, 100 Years of the History of Dance as Told by One Man in 60 Minutes with an Energetic Group Finale ·
Home Economics, Girls’ School, 5 February 2020 ·
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall ·
The Fringe World cabaret show, 100 Years of the History of Dance, showcases the charismatic performer Joseph Simons in a love letter to 20th century song’n’dance men and women.
Simons namedrops others, but his focus and most dazzling skits deal with figures from popular culture and musicals. Highlights include a Bob Fosse recreation of Cabaret, All That Jazz, and Chicago, complete with jazz hands and mimed hats; Michael Bennet’s exuberant camp (A Chorus Line), Paula Abdul’s sexy funk, and even Gillian Lynne’s absurd yet undeniably feline choreography for Cats.
The performance is framed as a classroom presentation on the history of dance delivered by a student, Jacob. He is introduced as being 17, so Simons’ fetishisation of his body is only mildly risqué.
In his homage to dancer Rudolf Nureyev, Simons performs balletic leaps and poses dressed in underwear and a tight shirt. Aside from excellent technique, this is something of a “woof!” moment, nicely countered when Simons turns his shirt into a midriff top to embody Abdul’s very different sensual appeal.
Alluding to the internet scandal around Beyoncé’s ripping off Rosas Danst Rosas, by filmmaker Thierry de Mey and choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Simons performs the floor rolls from De Keersmaeker’s piece. In poses and gestures, he also evokes the work of DV8 choreographer/filmmaker Lloyd Newson.
Elsewhere, though, there is comparatively little physical incarnation of contemporary theatre-dance proper, and Simons drops some clangers regarding history. Belgium was not devoid of significant dance prior to De Keersmaeker, neither she nor Bausch was a founder of Tanztheatre (that honour belongs to Rudolf Laban, Mary Wigman and their peers), and Nureyev was neither the first nor unusual as a balletomane who worked with contemporary dancers (Nijinsky, whom Simons also mentions, has a better claim to this title). Merce Cunningham’s work is discussed but not performed, and in a minor cop-out, Simons tells us the work of German dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch is so specific that you cannot recreate it “unless you are a tall woman with long hair wearing a cocktail dress” – though he may have a point!
This is unfortunate given Simons’ “history” opens with an excerpt from Martha Graham’s landmark work, Lamentation. Good though he is, Simons doesn’t nail Graham’s precise tensions of body and costume, nor her awe-inspiring angst.
These are, however, minor quibbles about a production driven by an infectious joy and sensuality. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that the work of camp, queer men and unashamedly poppy women is best showcased by Simons.
Though the production is loose in dramatic focus, as an hour of cabaret fun with a skilled 21st century song’n’dance man, it is excellent.
Pictured top: Joseph Simons as teenaged student Jacob in “100 Years of the History of Dance”.
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