DDF News — 18 May 2023
Festival Blog – Guest Review by Diana Bamimeke
The audience files in, abuzz, anticipating the performance that will kick off the 2023 edition of Dublin Dance Festival. Surveying it all from the edge of the almost-spare, black stage is a single dancer, whose nervy gaze sweeps through the crowd.
Here is Trajal Harrell, the fêted choreographer who, with Schauspielhaus Zürich Dance Ensemble, has produced The Köln Concert, an interpretation of Keith Jarrett’s eponymous jazz improvisations.
Seven alternately arranged stools are at the physical centre of this performance. Seven outposts in an emotional landscape, seven seats of corporeal power. Throughout the 50-minute show, each seat is assumed by a different dancer, though in the beginning, Harrell is alone. Joni Mitchell’s My Old Man soundtracks his big and tender movements. I read strain in his expressions; eyes closed, Harrell looks to be reaching, unsuccessfully, for something with his gestures.
When the cast convenes, finally, it’s time for a catwalk. The quality of Harrell’s choreographic references shines here. There’s a modern sensibility to the movements, and watching each elegantly costumed character, I am transported to a smoky hall in 1980s Harlem, the cradle of voguing and ballroom culture. They’re giving face, attitude, walk, fashion. Junior LaBeija’s historic exclamation from the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning springs to mind. “O-P-U-L-E-N-C-E. Opulence. You own everything.”
Fashion, then, is part of the language of this spectacle. The costuming, designed by Harrell himself, relays the individuality of each dancer. I’m especially struck by the sculptural quality of dancer New Kyd’s structured floral skirt, jutting out at the waist. Fur coats, black slips, and patterned Gucci tights complement the movements, at once irreverent, pained, obsessive, and striving.
Still, statuesque poses recalling ‘old way’ voguing - distinct from vogue dramatics - conclude the show, and there is a round of riotous applause. Deserved, of course, but as nourished as I am by The Köln Concert, I am left wanting more, wanting to be overcome, totally, by the unabashed queerness of the show.
This desire is a testament not just to Harrell, but to the cast’s interpretive talents, and the economy of set design that allows for so much meaning.
Written by art writer & independent curator, Diana Bamimeke - dianabamimeke.com