Dancing the Gay Fandango (1993)

Dancing the Gay Fandango  by Jenden & Solino
BATS Theatre, Wellington, April 1993
Review originally published in NZ Listener, 30 April 1993
by Raewyn Whyte

Dancing the Gay Fandango, presented recently at Taki Rua Depot in Wellington, and soon to be seen at The Watershed in Auckland, is out art. On alternate nights, gay, then lesbian, performers portray a series of relationships in which sexual identity is proudly brought on stage.

The four works on the program are relatively low-key. Flaunting it has no purpose here, and neither do high camp, gender bending, s/m, or feminismo. The performances here counter those blatant stereotypes, bring some less public aspects of queerness to the public eye. They offer challenge to those who refuse to see that both women and men, in gay or lesbian relationships, are caring, loving, supportive, game-playing, assertive, competitive, insecure, watchful, submissive.

The movement vocabulary is relatively neutral, a hybrid classic modern dance style with an emotional subtext, as readily performed by men as by women, though differently nuanced. Swirling turns, clean extensions and crisp shapes, a flow of movements broken by pauses, gestures and poses which signal character. There’s no big contrast between the casts and no obvious distinctions which make this performance gay, that lesbian, other than in the gendering. Gay or lesbian in this program is a matter of self-representation rather than a claim on political identity.

The choreography is by Paul Jenden, dating from 1985 to the present day, and the mood is by turns sensual, sombre, sentimental, celebratory. The clothing ranges from everyday jeans and t-shirts to formal tuxedos, and there’s little in the way of scenery or set, other than a few chairs. Sympathetic lighting is designed by Angela Sullivan, and there’s a video by Peter Duncan.

In Cheek to Cheek lovers circle and grapple and tease to Latin rhythms by George Howard, ritually stripping off a layers of clothing in a formal ceremony leading to lovemaking. In Watch one partner rests while the other kneels intently beside him/her, as if to ward off impending attack. The watcher gives to the other the shirt and jacket from his/her back, and the cycle repeats, as it will inexorably till harm is combatted. In Bon Voyage, lovers part at an airport, and right to the last moment of departure there is the possibility that the travelling one might relinquish his/her dreams and stay. And in Naked Truth, naked bodies are sculpturally posed against a video version of their embraces.

Each cast offers different things, each performer something distinct, special. The men, Paul Jenden and Louis Solino, bring a more strongly dramatic presence, and a poignant sense of the way that age discrepancies bring layers of meaning to a relationship. They also bring back memories for those of us who have followed their performances since the early 1980s. The women, Leanne Plunkett and Leonie Kaywood, bring a compelling sense of intimacy, a much more subtly nuanced depth of interpretation, and a technically better matched and more polished performance.

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