SEVEN is and 7 are...

designer-bodyDesigner Body
BALLETlorent at The Lowry Theatre, Manchester, March 13, 2009

The Lowry stage resembles a gaudy swamp. Dimly lit, and soundtracked by an insistent electronic hum, seven circular plinths turn slowly. A suggestion of dry ice rises around this haunting installation, each platform draped in rich fabric, as though seven haughty models have flounced off, leaving in their wake opulent drapes in artistic heaps. As the lights change and the music rises, there are shifts amongst the discarded cloth. Gradually, from a cocoon of fabric, figures emerge to stand elegant and poised. They resemble Victorian Bohemians. The men are in foppish top hats, the women in elegant dresses. Velvets, brocades, and silks combine in a cavalcade of finery. A surrealistic dream made flesh.

They move in synchronized perfection. The plinths constantly revolve, sometimes in the opposite direction to their tenants. It is a tribute to the dancers that they maintain their difficult positions without a hint of unease. In this battalion of grace, each employs skirts or frock coats to extend the magnitude of their gestures. The effect is haunting and refined, a treat to the eye. Like escaped music box dancers they twirl and shift shape, whilst remaining marooned on their ever-turning platforms, simultaneously unified and isolated.

When all collapse on the edges of their small revolving worlds to prostrate themselves like wounded birds, or freshly pinned butterflies, trapped but alive, this cavalcade of movement, color, and form continues to draw the audience along. Occasionally one dancer breaks free from the actions of the rest, a visual insubordination that is all too fleeting, and a subtle surprise to the uniformity of the proceedings. The stage resembles a dressmaker's floor at the end of the day, for as the piece unfolds, the dancers shed their clothes with invisible discretion.

The organic piles that grew into the expensively attired figures now resemble seven flailing and exaggerated life-class models. We have passed through a landscape by Dali into the scene from old tin lids of Quality Street and are now witnessing a cross between an art class and the dissection room. As they writhe naked on their plinths like victims of Pompeii, or outstretch their arms like wingless angels, their previously robed and refined exertions are exposed and bare. Simplicity lies at the heart of such an uncluttered ensemble. The final moments of this magical piece are both uplifting and melancholy as darkness slowly claims the proceedings and the soundtrack rumbles into silence.

The problem with much work of this kind lies in a failure to connect. Such an issue does not arise here, a fact betrayed by the prolonged applause the audience provides. Designer Body retains a serene power derived from Liv Lorent's restrained choreography, the cohesive strength of the visual narrative ably supported by the isolated sense of gravitas each performer exudes. A lingering reward, a visual treat, and an hour from which each viewer can individually savor and interpret at their own leisure. They are left to recognize aspects of themselves, invisible partners in an exquisite burlesque. - Rob Cochrane

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Mr. Cochrane is a poet and writer living in Manchester, England. His work has appeared in Mojo, Attitude, and Dazed & Confused. He has published three collections of poems, and Gone Tomorrow, his biography of the rock singer Jobriath, will appear via SAF in 2009.

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