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The Blank Album

Posted on September 23, 2010

The Blank Album

With The Blank Album, Glasgow-based choreographer Natasha Gilmore presents her dancers as a pop band, as comedians, as attention-seekers. It’s set up as a series of songs, with quarrels or bursts of affection between the band members. Performances are lively, but The Blank Album strains too hard for versatility.

The stage is set up for a concert, guitars and a cello waiting on stands. The dancers charge on with more instruments, ready to play electric guitar with a swagger. They’ll introduce themselves, bashful or boastful, and then break into dances or songs. Designer Sergey Jakovsky dresses them like lurid Goths, with the women in bright patterned tights or stockings, short skirts and baseball sneakers. Reds and pinks clash cheerfully.

The different numbers are written by Scottish pop/folk musician Quee McArthur, with styles ranging from heavy metal to two tone – but it’s always clear that these performers are playing at being a pop band. They have fun strumming guitars, but the voices aren’t really strong enough to carry these numbers.

Arguments bubble up during songs. Once they break out, they’re often melodramatic, a clingy girlfriend wailing at an unresponsive boy. The band dynamic works best around the edges. Simon Jaymes catches Laura Durrant’s eye as they move instruments, both suddenly romantic and self-conscious.

Later, Jaymes asks the audience to identify guitar riffs as animals or colours. “Badger”, offers an audience member. “No, no. Badger sounds like this,” Jaymes replies, improvising a bouncier version. He’s soon interrupted by Vince Virr as Busby, a tight-trousered would-be rock god who plays air guitar and licks the microphone stand.

Gilmore’s dancers are relaxed about speaking in character, very ready to push into stand-up comedy, but their material is often underwritten, needing more pace and less repetition. The Blank Album is deliberately episodic, stopping and starting. There’s too much padding between jokes, too much visible effort.

I like the way Gilmore presents dance as pop entertainment, her performers an indie dance band, but she’s very keen to stress how many different things they can do. They sing while standing on their heads, dance while singing. In one scene, Durrant plays a cello whilst she and it are moved around by other band members. She holds the bow and her partner holds the cello so that it faces her. Combining lifts and musicianship is obviously tricky and it is smoothly negotiated here, but it seems a lot of trouble for the resulting dance/song.

Zoë was born in Edinburgh, and saw her first dance performances at the Festival there. She is the dance critic of The Independent, and has also written for The Independent on Sunday, The Scotsman and Dancing Times. In 2002, she received her doctorate from the University of York for a thesis on “Nationhood and epic romance: Ariosto, Sidney, Spenser”. She is the author of The Royal Ballet: 75 Years and The Ballet Lover’s Companion.

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