Review: Once Upon a Midnight Dreary at the Blue Elephant Theatre

Written for Everything Theatre

It may be tiny, but the Blue Elephant Theatre has established itself as one of the venues to keep an eye on for exciting contemporary dance. Once Upon a Midnight Dreary, part of the Elefeet Dance Festival, is no exception. Consisting of two separate choreographies, it’s a short but compelling evening.

The first piece, Sonámbulas, is by choreographer Justyna Sochaj and explores the strange places our mind wanders off to when we dream. The three dancers move about the stage as if they are sleepwalking, sometimes calmly, sometimes with frantic, almost deranged movements. They are supported (or possibly controlled) by Martina Schwarz who provides the music with her accordion and her occasional humming. The combination of the folky music, the costumes (white pyjamas for the dancers, a dress and a bowler hat for Schwarz) and the dream theme immediately brought Cirque du Soleil to mind, although you shouldn’t expect any acrobatics here. In fact, the half hour piece could do with a little more excitement. While the dancers are obviously skilled, I would describe what they do as moving around rather than dancing, and I felt myself being lulled into a dreamlike state of my own by the repetitiveness of certain sections of the choreography. The tropical temperature inside the auditorium (summer is coming, everyone) didn’t really help either. Nevertheless, Sonámbulas makes for pleasant viewing.

This can’t be said for the second piece of the evening, NonFiction Dance’s Little Red Riding Hood, which starts off with a young man (the wolf) having an uncomfortably intimate five minutes with the red cloak lying on the floor. He rolls around in it, sniffs it, throws it around, and generally behaves like a huge creeper. Due to some technical difficulties the performance then started over from the top, and the second time round this bit was even more disturbing. What follows is a passionate to-and-fro between the wolf and the three women who have now entered the picture, each of them trying on the red cloak and capturing the wolf’s obsessive attention. As the forces of attraction, jealousy and repulsion grow stronger, the dancers’ actions become more violent, culminating in a disturbing ending. It’s a fantastic piece, executed with both passion and precision, but while it’s a compelling picture of an unhealthy relationship it’s not fun or easy to watch.

With this 50-minute show the Blue Elephant has once again proven to have an excellent eye for upcoming contemporary dance talent. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you have to be somewhat of an expert to enjoy their programming, though; I’m by no means a regular when it comes to modern dance, but find their offerings usually accessible and worthwhile. And Once Upon a Midnight Dreary is no exception.

This show has now completed its run at the Blue Elephant Theatre