The Happiness Project – Didy Veldman’s Umanoove: The Place, London, 2 May 2017

It’s a warm gun

Not at all sheet. Umanoove’s The Happiness Project. Photo by Richard Haughton

Didy Veldman is an ex-Rambert dancer who’s been successfully choreographing freelance around the world for many years now. Getting a bit brassed off with all the travelling involved, she decided to set up her own company in the UK a year or so ago and called it Umanoove. The Happiness Project is the first fruit borne of her new initiative and, as the title suggests, it’s an exploration of what makes people happy, or otherwise.

It’s not perfect by any means. It has a tendency to drift in and out of focus, Alexander Balanescu’s violin score is a bit on the pedestrian side (as is his physical role in the action) and, at 70 minutes with no interval, it feels very long. There is, however, plenty to make up for these shortcomings, not least of which is the quality of the dancing.

The cast of four were excellent, each with distinct, believable personalities. Madeleine Jonsson was at her best when drifting hazily around in her own lost world of happiness deficit. Estela Merlos could definitely have been used more, as her superb duet with a glass of water demonstrated. Mathieu Geffré was a decent dancer but an even better comedian – his proclamations of ecstasy upon receiving various designer clothes were beautifully judged.

The standout display, though, came from Dane Hurst. Straight from the off he showed what a phenomenal performer he is; he has terrific control over his body and an outstanding ability to shift body weight and balance. He’s that rare performer who can make his body speak all of its own and he was utilised brilliantly here.

Just as importantly, Veldman gave them all plenty of inventive choreography to get their teeth into. Highlights included Hurst’s smile-chasing solo at the beginning, a trio full of fabulous lifts for Hurst, Geffré and Merlos, and a quartet for the entire cast that was dripping with an erotic yearning for strawberries.

In the end, the piece drew no apparent conclusions regarding its subject matter but I left happy enough.

The Happiness Project continues at The Place in London until 3 May 2017 and then moves to Bournemouth. Didy Veldman’s website has more information and a video clip.

Gerard Davis

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