Chelsea Hotel**** (Riverside Studios, 5 November 2013)

Posted: November 7, 2013 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

If walls had ears, so they say, and maybe eyes too, what stories would they have to tell? The walls of few buildings in the World can hold as many juicy secrets as those of Manhattan’s iconic Chelsea Hotel, home at various times to writers, musicians, artists and actors. Delving into this rich source of material, Earthfall Dance Company here sets about revealing some of those secrets and bringing to life the hotel’s inspirational effect, through dance, music, poetry and film. Two men and two woman are seen on a large screen at the rear of the stage, ascending in the hotel’s elevator. They are entering an artistic melting pot, where genius is fuelled by kindred spirits from past and present generations, mind-altering substances and free love. They have soon forgotten what “normal” looks like as they become immersed in a Bohemian lifestyle, accepting that, if they are, as artists, to represent the values of life, they firstly have to live. Images of the hotel are projected on the screen throughout, the scenes spanning more than a century. On stage, we see two girls from the 19th Century, dressed in frilly petticoats, dancing provocatively and flirting with what would then have been unthinkable. Perhaps they met Mark Twain at breakfast. They make way for a modern day gay couple fighting, followed by a pair practising sadomasochism, another pair involved in an intense and violent relationship and then two people coping with the after effects of drug abuse. Although spanning eras, the predominant feel, both visually and musically, is of the 1960s when Andy Warhol, Janis Joplin or Tennessee Williams would have walked these corridors. Or perhaps Bob Dylan – he took his surname from Dylan Thomas who died in a room here in 1953. The four performers are Ros Haf Brooks, Jessica Haener, Sebastian Langueneur and Alex Marshall Parsons. Occasionally, they speak in verse to a camera, when their faces are projected on the screen in close-up, but mostly they rely on movement and dance to convey images of the hotel and of the people living in it. They are all superb, whether dancing freestyle or coming together, precisely choreographed. Lara Ward and the entire company, take credit for the choreography and the text. The original rock score is also outstanding, being performed by the three composers, using electric guitars, a synthesiser and percussion. The only criticism is that it is not easy to make out the lyrics in the few sung sections. In the course of 70 absorbing and, at times, breathtaking minutes of physical theatre, the performers are able to suggest to us many things: that defiance of social norms can be integral to achieving artistic greatness; that the creation of art is a continuing process crossing generations; and that spirits from bygone ages can become embedded in a building. This show is as intoxicating as the place that inspired it.

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