It is not very often that a performance prompts me to stand up during the bows – growing up in a family of actors and musicians, I was often lectured about the sanctity of the standing ovation. “You should only stand if the performance has been so good that you are moved to jump to your feet”, my granny would explain. She was so cynical of the frequency and predictability of some audiences in standing up thoughtlessly as they clapped, without understanding the gravitas of the action in the theatre world, that she sarcastically referred to it as “a standing ovulation”!
However, when faced with the smiling, exhausted faces of the dancers in Lenka Vagnerova’s ‘Gossip’ as they took their bows following their performance in the Riley Theatre on February 8th, I felt that simply sitting down to applaud them was not enough. These dancers had delivered a performance demonstrating an endless repertoire of skills, from immense physicality to captivating theatricality. As an audience member, I felt that they had poured their souls into delivering this piece of work, the conception of which was down to the creativity and vision of Lenka Vagnerova, a Czech choreographer. This was the first time that I had seen any of her company’s work, and it would certainly leave me eager to see more.
The show looks at the dangerous, consuming nature of gossip and slander. It is set at a birthday party, and opens with the host nervously awaiting the arrival of his guests. As they make their way onto the stage, which is brought to life by gold streamers, neon lights and a popcorn machine, it becomes evident that tensions are present between them. These are made apparent through the physical choreography which ensues – a small female dancer is thrown through the air and caught by three male dancers, appearing as light and structure-less as a rag doll. At one point, the host seems to be crippled by the people around him, contorting and writhing as his guests stand back, whispering and laughing. My favourite moment in the show was the duet between the couple, in which a male and female dancer discover that perhaps their relationship is not as perfect as they had thought. Their doubts about each other are revealed through pieces of tape which are pulled from their clothing, and eventually the woman’s dress is loosened to release an enormous pile of tape. While this has comedic effect at first, these issues that she has with her partner soon become all consuming as they are tossed between the other guests at the party, as if in a game. This was, for me, one of the strongest aspects of the show: Vagnerova’s ability to take an abstract concept and make it plainly visible through the use of props, setting and choreography.
‘Gossip’ is a visually and emotionally stimulating piece in which all elements of the show have clearly been carefully considered since the outset of the process. Movement, text, costume and set design all contribute equally to bringing this powerful show to life. After the show, a Q&A session was held, and it was great to hear Vagnerova’s experience of creating the work. I found it interesting to see how the dancers, who had just five minutes earlier been portraying characters of such exaggerated personality and ego while throwing themselves into the highly physical choreography, were now quite modest and quiet. But I suppose that’s the beauty of a wonderful show and wonderful performers – the ability to transform into something otherworldly, something so powerful that you’re left inspired, energised and a little taken aback. Now that, in my opinion, deserves a standing ovation.