Riverside Studios, London
Mike Brookes’ set is simple: a large double ‘boated bed’ a table, four chairs and a huge silver fridge; suspended centre stage is a screen for live streaming, montage b/w shots from Robert Mapplethorpe’s famed Leica camera, with filmed excerpts of lift interiors, lobby and ghostly images of two girls from the late nineteenth century, a nod to the hotel’s inception. This is NY’s most famous residence, Chelsea Hotel: ‘rest stop for rare individuals.’
The context is definitely sixties-inspired with a hedonistic, boho-style. Relationships are played out: vulnerable/ protective, manipulative/ tender as four dancers and three musicians interact with text, dance, music and film, highlighting the hotel’s eclectic list of clientele which included artists, musicians, writers and performers. Bob Dylan lived there, Dylan Thomas died there.
From the light touch of finger tips at the beginning as the dancers almost imperceptibly lower themselves on to chairs to the break-neck speed at the end as different surface planes become launch-pads for a series of heart-stopping movement, Earthfall weave a heady mix at once tangible and hallucinatory.
Couplings hint at Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe, Nancy Spurgeon and Sid Vicious, featuring juxtaposed scenes. The choreography is a weft of balance, weight-shift, stillness, antagonism and support. Cut through with an off- beat, journalese text which evokes Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs et al.
One couple write notes: Dear Patti rice is in the fridge. I love you but I think I prefer boys, love Robert. They dog-fight. The other lies foetal-prone on the bed; one eats an apple. Ghostly apparitions become flesh in white and pink, unified by the on-screen coloured flowers; a musician sings of roses. The integration and attention to detail by Artistic Directors Jessica Cohen and Jim Ennis makes Earthfall’s ‘Chelsea Hotel’ a satisfying, theatrical experience.
People lived anonymously, yet as the hotel’s fame grew, in such spectacular public view also. It’s ‘like a doll’s house in the twilight zone, with guitar burns and stoned out beauties in Victorian dresses,’ said Patti Smith. Earthfall, give life and breath to the legend. They don’t just inhabit physical space, they inhabit a feeling. Catch it while you can…
Riverside Studios, London
Welsh dance company Earthfall plunges into the heart of bohemian New York’s most potent myths in Chelsea Hotel, channelling the ghosts of the infamous establishment’s many famous artist-residents for a 70-minute piece that builds slowly into a portrait of damaged dreams.
Co-directors Jessica Cohen and Jim Ennis evoke the legendary hotel – which has provided refuge for artists from Dylan Thomas to Iggy Pop – through an iron bed, large fridge, table and chairs, and projected photos and video.
Two couples, first entwining with rain-on-windows melancholy and gradually building to full-on physical tussles, provide echoes of the past: Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe; Sid and Nancy; even two impish, Edwardian-dressed ghost girls, who descend on the audience.
Their evocative sequences of flirting and fighting, interspersed with spoken-to-camera reminiscences, play out to a soundtrack from three on-stage musicians, who mix up a rough and ready homage to the NY sounds of the 1970s and 1980s.
Chelsea Hotel is slow to weave its spell but the accumulation of hedonism, longing and despair is so poignantly caught by the company’s committed dancers that it’s soon hard to resist checking in.
Gulbenkian Theatre, Canterbury
29th October 2013, 14:12
Earthfall dance and theatre troupe put on an interesting show about New York’s Chelsea Hotel, exploiting to full effect this veritable source of bohemian culture.
Earthfall brought to the Gulbenkian a wonderful blend of contemporary dance, beautiful music and fragments of narrative to get across the spirit of New York’s Chelsea Hotel. This short, punchy play – only an hour and ten minutes long – was less concerned with attempting to portray the hotel through any single one of the stories being acted out or written down in its rooms, and more concerned with creating a melody of songs, dances and short monologues.
Chelsea Hotel was aesthetically pleasing, performed with vigour and passion by the dancers who were well accompanied by the band, and it left us with an idea of the artistic movements which the hotel has played host to over the course of the twentieth century. However, despite these technical triumphs it failed to hit the nail on the head in terms of emotional investment; because the characters were seemingly rough outlines of the stereotypes the hotel has observed through the decades, and therefore came across as abstract ideas, and because the play did not leave enough time for audience to connect with the era in question, no nostalgia or sentimentality could take root.
Nevertheless it is necessary to praise the play for its performers and for a few original elements that showcased Earthfall’s imagination and expertise. The band seemed equipped for the various moods, adopting soulful freedom in some episodes and playing with pizazz in the upbeat dances. They stood comfortably on stage, to the left of the action.
The dancers were talented actors too, their short monologues delivered to a camera sat at the far-right of the stage and projected onto a huge screen in the centre of the stage. The fact that the camera was so close to the characters as they mused on details of their weird lives – providing snapshots of their intensive relationships and the different New York social scenes – should have been problematic but they handled it admirably. The actual dances were exciting – the danger in a few of the moves proving to be more compelling than disturbing.
All in all the play was enjoyable but it seemed to be missing something to bring the story to life. It was certainly dynamic, but it was also full to the brim with clichés. In representing a series of artistic movements and various troupes of artists, the piece seemed to conform to the way outsiders view the art establishment as well as the bohemian life. Whether this was done knowingly and is itself a ‘topic for discussion’ is a curious question for us to ponder.
November 7th 2013
Despite containing many good things – some extraordinary things in fact –Earthfall’s Chelsea Hotel somehow contrives to be disappointing.
The ropey old bed, the tatty wooden table and the vintage fridge conjure up the right atmosphere for the famously grimy New York haunt of artists and drop-outs and they also leave plenty of well-used scope for imaginatively jumping all over them. The cinema-size screen that makes up the backdrop is well incorporated into the action by using images evocative of the hotel’s history interjected with live relays of the dancers talking or performing. The three piece band, while rarely getting the pulse racing with their curious mix of pleasant cod-Americana and 80s synthesizer poppiness, are all excellent musicians.
The four dancers are incredible athletes and they create the extraordinary bits. For the most part the choreography is a bland mash of weak and inexpressive movement that reveals little of the group of friends’ lives, emotions or purpose. But suddenly, a long way into the piece, war breaks out between Sebastian Langueneur and Alex Marshall Parsons and the thing bursts into life.
Physical violence is clearly Earthfall’s forte. The two fighters literally hurl each other across the stage, thumping their bodies to the floor with astonishingly fluid (and painful-looking) force. Cleverly crafted and brilliantly executed, it’s the charismatic Ros Haf Brooks’ turn next and she causes winces in the audience by crashing headlong into the fridge. It’s an incredible thing to see all this happening so convincingly and so close.
They also hold some astounding balances; Haf Brooks’ again somehow sits on the back of Marshall Parsons’ neck and then another time holds herself horizontally from the bedpost but all the dancers have their moments.
However, violence apart, the Chelsea Hotel choreography presents a sanitised, squeaky clean view of what the place was like – what The Carpenters were to the Velvet Underground – and consequently comes across as a rather cheesy idealisation of the determinedly grotty Manhattan landmark.
Chelsea Hotel remains at the Riverside Studios until 16 November 2013 and then continues its’ UK tour until 5 December. See the Earthfall website for tickets and a full list of venues.
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