Riverside Studios, London
7th November 2013
As might be expected from a tribute to one of New York’s most legendary hotels, there are big quotation marks around this 65-minute show by the Welsh physical theatre company Earthfall. Pinned to the considerable talents of four dancer-actors and three musicians, it’s an alternately moody and heady brew of impressionistic pretensions and full-blown rock-lit attitude.
Evoking the flavour of an iconic pocket of cultural history, this is a Chelsea Hotel of the mind. The production details are workably resonant: table and chairs, an iron-framed bed on wheels and a vintage refrigerator (useful to gyrate atop or springboard from, as well as for storing beer and a pair of studded cowboy boots). The spare setting is enhanced by film imagery, including footage of ceiling fans, carpets and neon signage, arty shots of the cast swaggering down corridors or angled in doorways, and live-to-camera monologues or cryptic notes hand-held in close-up.
The whole thing takes a while to come to a boil, shifting from the pensive tensions of damaged, discordant romance and into something more mischievous, exuberant and sexually charged. The performance gradually acquires an exhilaratingly defiant, deceptively reckless bruised cool. The dancers — Rosalind Hâf Brooks, Jessica Haener, Sebastian Langeuneur and Alex Marshall Parsons — are like composites of famous hotel residents (Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe) crossed with stereotypes of the New York scene: raging rock-star poets, Warholian midnight cowboys, drugged-up pretty boys in blue jeans or romping party-girls in polka-dot or pseudo-Victorian dresses.
Their body language of fast, tight spirals, truculent back-kicks and tumbling rolls is fuelled by the equally terrific and varied music of Frank Naughton, Sion Orgon and Felix Otaola. The soundtrack of strong, hook-laden vocals backed by a seductive mesh of keyboards, percussion and guitar licks helps to turn Chelsea Hotel into a kind of vital, haunted party.
Wales Millennium Centre, Weston Studio Tues 29th Oct
November 4, 2013 at 11:12
For over a century Hotel Chelsea was a centre of creativity and artistic collaboration in New York City. Made famous in numerous songs, films and books the hotel has housed some of the most famous names in the world, including Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan and Madonna; it was also the place where Welsh-great Dylan Thomas succumbed to pneumonia.
Taking inspiration from the tales of real star residents and filling in the gaps with wonderfully imagined moments the ensemble had the audience hooked from the first moments with their amazing displays of control and strength. As their bodies writhed, tumbled and collided the four daring performers played out every shade of human connection and inevitable disconnection.
Special mention must go to Ros Haf Brooks whose pure physical precision made it impossible to take your eyes from her perfectly executed routines. When paired with the male strength of Alex Marshall Parsons the pair created some the most exciting pieces of physical theatre to glide over and crash onto the studio floor.
Providing some of the more tender moments Jessica Haener and Sebastian Langueneur played as a couple who blended beautiful naivety and sexual confusion. In a big city full of new experiences, surrounded by exciting and unconventional people it’s easy to get lost.
For the most part the film and projected images really enhanced the live action, offering another layer of imagery to the frantic physicality and original song. Also projected were the rare spoken moments, which sadly often jarred the pace and, although beautifully lyrical, the words just didn’t have the same visceral and emotional urgency as the movement.
The live, original score perfectly suited the shifting moods of the piece; effortlessly transitioning between moments of aggression, seduction and pure comedy. The band was multitalented and seamlessly integrated into the action, often moving around the space to highlight certain instruments. Although the music certainly enhanced the piece sometimes it would have been nice to have some silence, where the natural percussion of the performer’s bodies and their cries of exertion could have been heard.
As one of Wales’ most established and respected multimedia dance companies Earthfall have once again blurred the lines between theatre, dance, film and live music to truly capture the drug-fuelled hedonism and pure sensuality that created the allure and atmosphere of the bohemian artists’ haven – Hotel Chelsea.
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff,
30 Oct 2013 12:35
Earthfall has created a fast-moving show that pays homage to the iconic New York hotel that was once frequented by famous names like Dylan Thomas.
Earthfall’s Chelsea Hotel
There aren’t many occasions when at the end of a show I could happily, even eagerly, sit back and immediately experience it again.
Earthfall has built up an enviable reputation for creating works that are boundary-pushing works of physical theatre and contemporary dance that audiences find engaging and accessible.
That is clearly true of this new show Chelsea Hotel. It is a fast-moving, pulsating homage to the iconic New York hotel that provided a refuge and inspiration for artists ranging from the likes of Dylan Thomas, Patti Smith, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan with many a legend in between.
The work from the Cardiff-based group’s co-artistic directors Jessica Cohen and Jim Ennis is a fusion of eclectic movement, robust and richly physical dance, killer music from three on stage musicians and the company’s trade mark use of video both recorded and live with the four characters speaking into a camera.
Those more familiar with the Chelsea Hotel’s strange and unique position in the lives of so many now legendary characters could analyse the work as two couples staying at the hotel, from their arrival to departure via the cage lift and corridors of the Bohemian bolt-hole.
Inspired in part by Patti Smith’s “Just kids” which captured some of her experiences at Chelsea Hotel in the ’60s; it has the authenticity and integrity of a part factual work.
But while based partly on such documented episodes the work can be approached, and enjoyed, as a celebration of the genre, the relationships, the literal and chemical induced highs and low, sexual awakening, the freedom and the anarchy of the inhabitants of the Chelsea Hotel where paintings could be given in lieu of rent.
The four performer – Ros Haf Brooks, Jessica Haener, Sebastian Langueneur and Alex Marshall Parsons – are seemingly effortless at they throw themselves into choreography that is intoxicatingly in its melding of heart pounding explosions of energy and intimate interaction, all driven by the splendidly evocative live music of Frank Naughton, Sion Orgon and Felix Otaola.
The performers have three main props – a bed and a table with chairs and a large free standing fridge – each being used as platforms for the dance and the narratives of this on-the-edge existence, from zany craziness to languid near torpor, all immaculately executed.
Most gripping were the break outs of athletic ensemble choreography, highly charged encounters with the performers launching, leaping and lunging, riding the wave of ecstatic music.
Bath Spa, Live
21st October 2013
There are few buildings that can claim the notoriety of New York’s Chelsea Hotel. The home of artists, musicians, writers and bohemians, over the years it has become a byword for self-destructive creativity. Jack Kerouac wrote ‘On the Road’ there and Mark Rothko paid his rent with paintings. Less creatively it was the place where Dylan Thomas finally succumbed to alcohol and Nancy Spungen was fatally stabbed. It is this building and its long-gone inhabitants that are investigated in Earthfall’s eponymous multi-media journey into the now-decaying edifice. The quartet we meet are visitors to this place of memories and ghosts – or are they the ghosts themselves? Three musicians play live music onstage, an appropriate touch, although it would be better if they interacted more with the other performers, given that music was an integral part of the place. A relentless fan, an old-fashioned lift, run-down corridors are all projected on the back screen, occasionally replaced by on-camera recollections: the reluctant visitor, the night-time footsteps in the hall, the stream-of-consciousness outpourings, the note (presumably to one-time resident Patti Smith) in the fridge, and a recollection of the return of Nancy on that fateful night. The set is suitably down-at-heel: a metal bed, a table and chairs, and a large fridge with a bizarre assortment of contents. At the start there’s a witty nod towards Warhol’s film of the Empire State Building as the dancers take forever to move from upright to sitting. Warhol wasn’t a resident but many of the people in his film ‘Chelsea Girls’ were. The dancing is both challenging – holding yourself in a horizontal position on a bedstead using only your hands is quite a feat – and impeccable; the concept interesting. But what it seems to lack is that essential sleaziness at the heart of the hotel. There’s a melancholy, yes, but you don’t get the feeling that this is a place where people living on the edge sometimes lost their balance. It doesn’t feel as if you’re visiting a place that has passed into legend. It could have been so much better, but even so it is still stimulating (it makes you think about it for a long time afterwards) and, as with all Earthfall’s productions, well worth watching.
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