The Monocle

Mathieu Geffré
Rendezvous Dance
Wilton's Music Hall

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Cast of the Monocle Credit: Luke Waddington
Cast of the Monocle Credit: Luke Waddington
Imogen Banks Credit: Luke Waddington

Rendezvous Dance has brought its brand of queer contemporary dance to Wilton’s Music Hall with a winning subject matter: The Monocle.

The hotspot for fashionable lesbians and artist-thinkers of nineteen-twenties and -thirties Paris, the history of this club makes an ideal beacon for freedom of expression and audiences wishing to celebrate this.

Our invitation into The Monocle’s space, as created by Rendezvous, is a surprisingly formal one: the audience is seated in Wilton’s auditorium while the ensemble of performers dance and cajole on the thrust stage.

The opening is everything that you might imagine of a pre-war era cabaret scene. Women dressed in high-waisted slacks manoeuvre panther-like in and out of the deep, wide pliés and attitudes that are characteristic of choreographer Mathieu Geffré’s work. His previous outdoor piece, From Greenwich with Love, featured partners similarly entangled in low-level partner work with a focus on support and counterbalance.

Conversely, the individuals populating The Monocle switch couplings frequently, with more reactive passion and independence. Storytelling is in movements that explore common events—an ingénue joins the club and is hit on by predatory regulars, two testosterone-fuelled suitors fight over an attractive waiter with devastating effects, visitors are relieved of their jewellery if they cannot afford to enter and members of the community are encouraged to perform their own ‘turns’ in the spotlight.

The performers themselves appear quite similar in terms of stature and range, which gives a uniform impression to some sequences—an interesting choice for a piece built on diversity principles. Moments of real high-jinks are achieved when a faceless figure, dressed in militant black, breaks into the club accompanied by alarming sound and light. This embodiment of the era’s threats and travesties—discrimination, war and finally, occupation—is genuinely eerie and evocative.

A form of speechless theatre, The Monocle is interestingly held together by the siren jazz songs of the era as phenomenally delivered by singer Imogen Banks with creamy tone and vibrato. Expressive signer Caroline Ryan performs in tandem throughout, intermittently directing audiences to start audio-description tracks.

It is an original composition of a swan ‘song’ for the now non-existent club in Paris that leaves the audience in raptures over a heritage seldom explored. A standing ovation from rows of supporters and a wider-community ensues.

While the subject matter and open invitation to engage is poignant within The Monocle, its execution feels rather tame. An invitation to enter the Parisian 1920s underground is tantalising, however it’s possible that a few more boundaries need to be broken for The Monocle to reach its true potential—starting with a fourth wall.

Reviewer: Tamsin Flower

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