The Watteau Duets – Armitage Gone! Dance: The Great Hall, Sherfield Building, Imperial College, London, 14 October 2011

Brought to heel and dressed to kilt

Superman to the rescue! Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Premiered in the mid 1980s Karole Armitage’s The Watteau Duets has now found a place in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s tongue-rolling Post Modernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990 exhibition. It’s so Post Modern a work in fact that, thanks to a late switch, it was actually held across the road at Imperial College’s Sherfield Hall.

Born amidst the exuberant chaos of New York The Watteau Duets are actually inspired by the 18th century paintings of French artist Jean-Antoine Watteau. Armitage splices her thoughts through a mostly bad-tempered series of duets charting the progress or otherwise of the relationship between a man and a woman.

The two dancers, Marlon Taylor-Wiles and Abbey Roesner, throw themselves into their roles with well-honed abandon. Taylor-Wiles’ sturdy presence and teetering machismo are superbly counterpointed by Roesner’s burgeoning sexuality; her stiletto dancing skills are devilishly pin-point.

David Linton’s music, a pioneering piece of sampling, is a gate-crashing mash-up of sources ranging from drawly monologues to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and still sounds fresh today. Sadly, its impact is undermined by the clownish antics of the two live musicians. At times they made an interesting juxtaposition to the intensity of the dancing but their roles, and certainly their glasses, might have been better left in the 80s.

Peter Speliopoulos and Charles Atlas’ costumes were fun, from social realist Gagarin spacesuits to denim tutus, juxtaposition was, like it was for most things in this show, everything. Ah, maybe the last-minute change of venue was not so last-minute after all.

Penguins.

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