Reviewed by Elaine Cusack
Review Date: 05/06/15

Launch Day

from FRESH North East at The Late Shows

Saturday 16th May 2015 @ Bensham Grove Community Centre, Gateshead

The Late Shows, this region’s annual cultural crawl across Newcastle and Gateshead, has woven a brand new strand into its cultural clippie mat.

FRESH North East is a dance artist-led initiative which gives participants the chance to perform work in progress and receive constructive audience feedback. This year FRESH teamed up for the first time with The Late Shows to produce a double bill of new dance work at Bensham Grove Community Centre.

The first performance, Launch Day was choreographed by local dancer, Kristin Kelly-Abbott. She was inspired to create this piece by visual artist Alexander Millar’s distinctive “Gadgies” paintings. These popular, instantly recognisable images are based on the working men of Miller’s Glasgow childhood and the Geordies he observed when he moved to Tyneside aged 16.

Kelly-Abbot’s research into shipbuilding history also fed into Launch Day and her five dancers brought the Gadgies to life, aided by two instantly recognisable Millaresque props: a set of ladders and a bike.

The Gadgies on canvas, like Reg Smythe’s cartoon anti-hero, Andy Capp, never show their faces. Launch Day’s performers moved from trademark Millar hunched shoulders and flat caps covering eyes to dancing towards the audience with faces in full view.

Launch Day’s narrative was loud and clear and the pace felt natural leading us to a climax recreating Millar’s work, The Angel. This piece is a comic homage to Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North: Gadgie with a set of ladders for wings.

Kelly-Abbott’s very own Gormley Gadgie took flight in front of us. The performance captured Millar’s humour and moved me to tears as I watched what I believe was the long life and death of the Gadgie; the demise of shipbuilding on the Tyne and Clyde and the resurrection of both Working Man and the North.

This powerful and authentic performance was enhanced by the soundtrack: the industrial clang of Kraftwerk and Dire Strait’s Mark Knopfler who, like Alexander Millar, was born in Glasgow but moved to the North East.

Launch Day is more than a response to a visual artist. It is a beautiful work and deserves to be performed regionwide and beyond.

The evening’s second piece was Talk to the Waves (how they are beautiful and then gone) by Makros Dance. Choreographed and performed by Rosie Macari and Francesca Willow, it was created in response to the short life of American slam poet and scientist Christian Taylor who died last autumn aged 20.

Talk to the Waves was created in collaboration with Taylor’s friends from the performance poetry scene in Texas and aims to explore “what legacy might be.”

This was an intense performance by the duo which made good use of both floor and wall to express pain, exhilaration and exhaustion.

The soundtrack enhanced the piece, especially the recording of Christian Taylor performing his work, Alfred Nobel.

In the closing moments, one performer sat down and read from a book. I was in the second row of the audience but missed the words. I was frustrated. Was I meant to hear them or not?

This sums up my response to the piece. I felt I missed some of the nuances and therefore lost out on understanding the work as a whole. This is a pity as I wanted to understand everything about Talk to the Waves. I also wanted to hear more of Christian Taylor’s voice and ideas.

Makros Dance plan to take the piece to America and perform it in front of the community it was created with and for. It will be interesting to hear audience feedback from Texas and beyond.