Lamp Magazine, Bath, March 2013
Every Room Tells a Story: ‘Chelsea Hotel’
As the original Hotel Chelsea undergoes a controversial facelift, dance theatre company Earthfall get set to reveal the poetry and tragicomic events from the iconic New York hotel and its place in contemporary culture, at Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre.
Dylan Thomas spent some of his last hours there, and Mark Twain was among the first of many authors to stay. In song Leonard Cohen wrote of his affair with Janis Joplin in ‘Chelsea Hotel #2’, and Bob Dylan described ‘Staying up for days in the Chelsea Hotel writing Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ for his wife ‘Sara’. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Arthur C. Clarke, Quentin Crisp, and Sid and Nancy are just some of the other legends that have passed through the doors of this infamous New York hotel over the past 100 years.
Using a combination of radical dance, live music and film, the multi award-winning Earthfall peel back layers of history to reveal the stories-some true, some false-buried within its walls.
“We had done a lot of research into the New York art scene of the 50s and 60s for ‘The Factory’”, explains Artistic Director Jim Ennis, referring to a previous Earthfall production inspired by Andy Warhol’s famous creative hub. “Out of that, stories kept emerging of the events and people at the Chelsea Hotel. Like Warhol’s Factory, the Chelsea Hotel became a place where artists found refuge, and created an almost pseudo-family to protect themselves.”
One of the major influences on the choreography and storytelling of Chelsea Hotel has been Patti Smith’s account of the time she spent at the hotel in the 60s, as documented in her book ‘Just Kids’.
“I went to hear her read from her book – a beautiful account of a love affair between Patti and Robert Mapplethorpe” explains Jim, “with him coming to terms with his sexuality, and Patti coming to terms with her own creativity and artistic career.”
Jim, along with fellow Artistic Director Jessica Cohen has visited the original Hotel Chelsea in New York. “The place had an air of shambolic elegance” recalls Jim. “It was chaotic with artists donating drawings and paintings in lieu of rent. The building has charisma and has always been a place of culture, created organically from the ground up, but now it seems like it’s becoming quite corporate.”
The Hotel, which first opened in 1884, is currently undergoing refurbishment, and as a result many of the historic features including artists work have been removed. This has proved controversial, with some residents alleging these moves are an attempt by the developers to force out existing tenants, some of whom have resided there since the 1960s.
“I think it is important to tell stories – any story – to a new generation, and to know the cultural history”, says Jim, “but it is not a documentary we are creating. We will locate our own experiences and reference our own performer’s biographies within the production, using some factual and some fictional elements.”
Jim founded Earthfall with Jessica Cohen in 1989 with the aim of forging radical choreography with live music and strong visual imagery. Since then Earthfall have performed in many major festivals all over the world, and have won several awards for their live performance and film work. These include the BAFTA Cymru Award for Best Short Film for ‘Too Old to Dream’, and The Theatre in Wales Award for Best Dance with ‘At Swim Two Boys’.
Following on from Chelsea Hotel, Earthfall’s next project looks set to take them in a different direction and will be called ‘Stories from a Crowded Room’. It will be a shorter, installation piece that Jim describes as “a piece of architecture, a site-responsive piece of work where the performers and the audience will be immersed.”
By Sara Loveridge
See Earthfall perform Chelsea Hotel on Thursday 25th April at Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre, School Road, Taunton. TA2 8PD.
At 7.30pm. Tickets: £9, £7 Concessions, £5 Students.
Recommended for those aged14+.
Box Office: 01823 414141.
After the success of last year’s award winning At Swim Two Boys, Earthfall return with a Spring tour across the UK. Earthfall reveal the poetry and tragicomic events from the iconic Chelsea Hotel and its place in contemporary culture. A voyeuristic discovery of the inhabitants lives, loves and longings.
The productions blazes a trail from Warhol to Kerouac and Dylan Thomas to Patti Smith, where several stories, true and false, interplay through radical dance, live music and film, capturing significant moments in the history of this rebel artist mecca.
The piece is devised over 6 weeks with 4 dancers and 3 musicians, a much larger cast than last year’s production of At Swim Two Boys. Jessica Cohen, co-artistic director commented,
“With rehearsals already producing exceptional music, dance and dialogue ready for the opening tour in Spring 2013, I believe Chelsea hotel will carry on the growing success of Earthfall’s productions following our previous production At Swim Two Boys ”
This rehearsal process sees the musicians and dancers working together to create an entirely new soundtrack for the piece and movement that is unique to each production. This is what helps to make Earthfall’s shows so exciting and dynamic.
Alongside the show Earthfall are hosting a series of participatory workshops for different groups. A range of sessions from a half day workshop to a week-long residency, professional development and training days. Our education and participation work caters for any organization from secondary schools to dance companies. To find out more please visit www.earthfall.org.uk/particiapte.
Chelsea Hotel is touring to 5 venues across the UK. For more information and to keep up to date on the latest development please visit www.chelseahotel.org.uk
Earthfall perform in India
Earthfall and CHOREA Theatre performed their long time collaboration ‘After the Birds’ in New Delhi India on Tuesday 8th January, at 8:30pm, in the largest theatre festival in Asia. This was followed by a director’s talk on Wednesday 9th January in the National School of Drama.
Bharat Rang Mahotsav was established a decade ago by the National School of Drama to stimulate the growth and development of theatre across India. Originally a national festival showcasing the work of the most creative theatre workers in India, it has evolved to international scope, hosting theatre companies from around the world, and is now the largest theatre festival of Asia.
‘After the Birds’ is a result of international theatrical project created by Earthfall and CHOREA Theatre from Poland. Using two absolutely different aesthetics and working methods, the two groups jointly created a brand new artistic language on the border of genres and styles. CHOREA and Earthfall provoke the collision between Ancient Greek choral songs, modern live music, urban space choreography, highly physicalized choir, and fears of the modern world. The performance features a radical fusion of elements adapted from Aristophanes comedy, “The Birds”. The show has been performed in mainland Europe every year since 2005, as well as in Russia in 2011, and this is its much anticipated premier in India.
Tomasz Rodowicz, from CHOREA Theatre and co director with Jessica Cohen and Jim Ennis of Earthfall, talks about the relevance of the piece today.
“We have attempted to answer the question: what is left after Aristophanes’ The Birds, ancient Greeks and their culture, and what do we have in common with them? Athens in Aristophanes’ times went through devastating wars, collapsing democracy, political crises, plots and power struggles among different political factions. From behind the tall walls, gods look like corrupted idiots, and people look like dwarfs deprived of dreams. Can a paradise on Earth be built only behind barbed-wire fences? Do all world healing visions become equally bitter and dangerous, when we start putting them into practice? During the play performed in the global crisis and terrorism era, we pose these questions not only to Aristophanes.”
Earthfall as well as performing in India this week have also announced their short spring run for their latest UK production Chelsea Hotel.
Performing at The Torch Theatre, Milford Haven on the 23rd April, Tacchi-Morris, Taunton on the 25th April, Theatre Brycheiniog, Brecon on the 27th April, The Roses Theatre, Tewkesbury on the 1st May and MAC, Birmingham on the 3rd May.
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