There’s some brilliant dance work being created in Leeds at the moment. Northern Connections 2 at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, staged in their wonderful Riley Theatre in the former synagogue building on Chapeltown Road, is the second showcase of new work performed there this year.
The triple bill featured three new works (or works still in development): Blue Monday from choreographer Joseph Reay-Reid; bYOB from creative duo 70:30 Split; and This Is Not A Wedding from Gracefool Collective. Each group had just three weeks to develop their piece in the NSCD studios.
Blue Monday is an ensemble work, “rooted in the experience of working class youth and the desire to escape the everyday”.
Joseph Reay-Reid’s high-energy piece for one male and two female dancers starts with a video sequence drawing parallels between the poll tax riots of the late Thatcher years and today’s pre-Brexit political and social disquiet. The soundtrack features period classics from Pulp, Suede and 10cc among others.
This North-West-based choreographer favours cross-disciplinary work, featuring strong physicality and a lot of dialogue.
For me, the most memorable images are of a young man striving harder and harder for the success that surely must be his if only he tries hard enough, and of three dancers in animated, competitive conversation that becomes increasingly strident until all three are shouting into the void without listening to anyone. Today’s social media on stage in 3D.
It was a pleasure to meet York-based duo Lydia Cottrell and Sophie Unwin at the pre-show reception.
The pair have worked together under the name 70:30 Split for the past six years, combining dance, theatre and cabaret to produce frank and satirical performance. Previous works have focused on the female experience and the representation of women, whilst bYOB looks instead at aspects of masculinity.
I found this the most challenging work of the evening.
We’re confronted by four balaclava-clad men in black. They’re not terrorists (the idea horrified the creators in the post-show Q&A) but instead could be military – or a police SWAT team. What are they carrying as they come on stage? The reveal is a surprise, but not as great as the sight of four macho dancers trying to perform with their trousers round their ankles, pure white Y-fronts gleaming in the theatre lights.
Or the switch into folk, as the ensemble pull out handkerchiefs and perform something that feels remarkably like a morris dance in their black combat outfits. It would be great to see this again when it’s evolved still further.
The highlight of the evening was the return of Leeds’ own Gracefool Collective, fresh from the Edinburgh Fringe.
The quartet of NSCD alumni (Rachel Fullegar, Kate Cox, Sofia Edstrand and Rebecca Holmberg) describe their work-in-progress as “the difficult second album” after their success with their debut show, This Really Is Too Much.
The thing to remember about This Is Not A Wedding is that … you’re not at a wedding. Despite the dresses. And the cake. And the balloons. Oh and the awkward speeches.
The show ‘starts’ as the audience return from an interval, and it’s the excruciatingly embarrassing social event we’ve all been to at some point. The piece focuses on our social obsession with pairs and the expectation to ‘couple up’, and it’s a brilliantly observed pastiche.
The Gracefool girls excel in taking such observations, of the ‘feminine’ mannerisms of a bride, or the growing anxiety of an event organiser, and making them just that little bit larger than life without quite crossing the boundary into parody and slapstick – until they’re good and ready to do so.
The results are hilarious as a multi-legged bride-creature rolls across the floor, or couples come together and are split apart in a kind of human-powered Newton’s cradle.
A lot of work has gone into the costumes as well; over-the-top bridal numbers yes, but also elements of overalls and dungerees, fitted and not-fitted. Again, this is a piece I’d like to see a second time when it’s been further developed.
The Northern Connections showcases are part of an artistic development and residency programme delivered by the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in partnership with Spin Arts and Yorkshire Dance, supported by Arts Council England.