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A Suitcase for All Occasions at the Old Fire Station, Oxford

Posted on June 1, 2012

I was not sure what to expect from Paulette Mae’s A Suitcase for All Occasions. It was very well attended on March 17, and the atmosphere built up outside as we all waited in the foyer to be let in. The programme seemed to suggest – from Mae’s background and the information we were given – that the three dances would focus on the meaning and unnecessary nature of the material possessions we want and accumulate.

The first dance, P.S., seemed more about mother and daughter losing connections than the significance of a dress that the daughter wanted. The only dance that seemed to have a clear image of the (emotional) baggage we carry around with us, was Mae’s solo, You Have Something of Mine, in which she used props: balloons, a suitcase and the unravelled video tape it contained. She used the balloon, blowing up and releasing it, as a way to show her expelling internal baggage – or that’s what I thought – and the suitcase of tape to represent memories and how they follow her. The other two dances seemed less clear.

The use of sound varied in effectiveness. They used spoken word, the best of which was Bishop’s poem The Art of Losing. Mae’s delivery of it stood out for me, she seemed focused on what she was saying and determined not to make it sound like a poem and it was also relevant to the theme of belongings. In P.S. they used words to tell a story, whereas in Tattoo speech emphasised the differences in the way people may approach things such as shopping; Anja Meinhardt told the audience about her love of shopping while, off-stage, Ana Barbour spoke over the top about her dislike of it. With a little polishing, this clever technique would clearly present the conflict. There seemed to be various tracks of music run together, none of which merged smoothly or were obviously related. I much preferred the longer sections, such as I’ve Got You Under My Skin, as it was easier to focus on the dancing instead of the changing tracks.

Barbour, Mae and Meinhardt are all talented dancers. Barbour has the ability to move very little, yet capture the attention of the entire audience – it must be her concentration. All three dancers have very different styles of contemporary dance: Meinhardt very springy and light, Mae fluid yet vulnerable and Barbour dances in a compelling but understated way.

These contrasting styles worked well in some sections, my favourite being a floor sequence in Tattoo in which Mae and Meinhardt travelled across the stage in a way that was not obviously in sequence but synchronised at certain points. In other sections the dancers’ styles, as well as the broken up nature of the chorography, worked against the appearance of the dance. There seemed to be a lot of movement and very little dancing. I would love to see these dancers again but maybe in a different (or revised) piece.

 

Miranda Frudd is one of the winners of the Dance Writers of the Future 2012 competition

Jonathan Gray is editor of Dancing Times. He studied at The Royal Ballet School, Leicester Polytechnic, and Wimbledon School of Art where he graduated with a BA Hons in Theatre Design. For 16 years he was a member of the curatorial department of the Theatre Museum, London, assisting on a number of dance-related exhibitions, and helping with the recreation of original designs for a number of The Royal Ballet’s productions including Danses concertantes, Daphnis and Chloë, and The Sleeping Beauty. He has also contributed to the Financial Times, written programme articles for The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet, and is co-author of the book Unleashing Britain: Theatre gets real 1955-64, published in 2005.

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