la nuit intime
Choreography by Liv Lorent in collaboration with the company
Hyena Cafe, Newcastle, and touring
We are used to site-specific theatre but site-specific dance, something on which Liv Lorent and her balletLORENT focus, is enough of a rarity to attract immediate interest, and there is possibly nowhere more appropriate for such an event than a nightclub. It is truly an intimate venue, with the dancers and audience in close contact throughout. Indeed, in la nuit intime (the intimate night), although there is a central "stage" area, the dance is not confined to it but takes place in five other "set piece" areas (one a constantly circling small revolve) and between the tables at which the audience sits. So up-close and intimate is it, in fact, that where I was sitting, next to the revolve, a dancer's outstretched foot was within an inch of my head!
In her programme note, Liv Lorent writes, "la nuit intime is about sharing the dancers' unique spirit and individuality with you, the audience, in a singular intimate night."
The dancers wander through the audience, sit or stand and watch when not performing, and, indeed, the audience is free to wander, buy their drinks, smoke, chat (with each other and the dancers), so the atmosphere is one of tremendous informality. As the dancers wander, they sometimes break into what seems to be completely spontaneous dance (reminiscent of breakdancers' jam sessions) , sometimes solo, sometimes joined by others. But it is not, of course, spontaneous, as the ensemble work proves.
There is a huge range of styles in the piece: ballroom, street dance, ballet, tap, flamenco, Cossack, aerialist, even pole-dancing (with the nudity that goes along with it - hence the "not suitable for under-18" warning), and not a little of Fred and Ginger. And there's a playfulness about it which is refreshing: eye contact with the audience, the raised eyebrow, the half smile.
It does require a bit of an effort from the dance-aware audience, for it is difficult to shrug off the "we have to sit and watch intently" attitude. At some points in the evening there are things happening all over the room and you're tempted to try to watch them all, eyes swivelling and neck craning to try to see what's going on, but of course that's impossible. Perhaps we should have taken the implicit invitation to wander. Or do we concentrate on what's nearest to us? But what's happening elsewhere looks so interesting! The majority of us treated it as a standard performance, staying in our seats and trying to watch everything that was going on. At one point in the evening, one of the chairs at my table (which tended to be occupied by "off-stage" dancers) became vacant and I was joined by a local theatre producer who said, "I can't believe it! The best seat in the house empty!" And yes, it was the best seat in the house for a couple of areas, but pretty hopeless for three others.
la nuit intime, in fact, is more of a dance installation than a performance, challenging our perception of what dance is. This was the premiere and was filled with the great and the good of the NE arts scene: I suspect that the typical nightclub audience would not react as we did, treating it as a performance to sit and watch, but would be far less inhibited about moving around and, as it were, cherry-picking what interests them.
As a performance, at more than two and a half hours, it was probably too long and a bit repetitive in places: had we treated it as I suspect we were meant to (and as the usual nightclub audience undoubtedly would), neither of these would have been a problem. la nuit intime challenges our preconceptions - indeed, one could say that it gives our preconceptions a good kicking.
Finally, a word about the dancers - wow!
To expand on that word: their energy, virtuosity and sheer stamina are enormously impressive. They slipped from style to style, from dynamic to dynamic, with an ease that made it all look... easy!
"la nuit intime" is at the Hyena Cafe on 1st February and then tours. For tour details see our news story about the piece.
Peter Lathan also reviewed the revival in 2007
Reviewer: Peter Lathan