Poor old Giselle can count her lovers on the fingers of one hand. While this number may not make for a very adventurous erotic bestseller, it is all very convenient given that this is a dance piece mostly acted out by hands – and rather inconsequential, given that we are left with no reason to care for a static plastic model and her utterly figurative misery.
Throughout Kiss & Cry, as forefingers and middle fingers offend through their inconclusive imitations of human movement, nobody questions why having just five lovers is automatically lamentable – nor does anyone challenge the idea that being old makes you only capable of dwelling on the past (if I had a year for every time that image was regurgitated in theatre, I, too, would be weeping into my Werther’s). We learn that ‘kiss and cry’ is terminology borrowed from figure skating – the name of the bench where contenders wait to hear their scores – and we are encouraged to watch Giselle as she seeks to confront her own grim total.
Thankfully, while fingers and thumbs pirouette across miniature stages built on table tops, the dancers here aren’t the only digital things. The Barbican’s stage has given itself up to a small movie set, complete with a camera dolly, some ridiculously high-quality filming equipment, and a crew of technicians and puppeteers dressed entirely in black. As members of this team mess around with various minuscule sets and special effects that incorporate all four elements, Giselle’s creatively fashioned, yet terribly twee world is projected on a screen behind them, in all its imaginative, hi-res glory.
With nobody left in her real life to satisfy her needs, our lonely plastic model heroine waits in a lonely plastic model railway station brooding over locomotives and lost love, leaving it up to the playful cast and company to toy with visual representations of the memories that absorb her. Unfortunately for Giselle, the show picks up the language of the truly undersexed, setting the whole piece within what appears to be a Hornby showroom. A tiny electrical train goes around its tiny circular track; in broad-panning landscape shots, our camera operators take in a freeze-frame of tiny figurines, immobile in tasks from music-making to commuting, cycling to screwing.
Accompanying these lingering shots of characterless characters, the rich and gentle male voiceover is thick with a fridge-magnet sentimentality. These people are “those who we wait for, but never come”. This truism, I’m afraid, is not a stand-alone comment; as if to emphasise its own futility, this production is powered by grand, vacuous statements, that alternate between ad-break wisdom – “In the beginning, we don’t know how long it’s going to last” – and jarring, goofily-engineered whimsy. Some loves, we learn, are like onions: they “start dry, then you cry, then you get used to it – but there are things you can’t digest”.
In its attempts to tie live performance and film-making, using the stage to create and record an impression of what the beauty of the stage could be, Charleroi Danses has succeeded in presenting, but not capturing, the romance of the theatre. The focus swings from expert yet soulless choreography – where hands rub together glee-lessly – to perspective-alternating scenes that go from deliberately ill-fitting dolls house rooms to wild and vivid snowstorms, floods and deserts, but the live action backdrop serves as a reminder that there’s little of value in this 80 minute piece that couldn’t be contained within a short film.
Kiss & Cry is playing at Barbican Centre until 28 June. For more information and tickets, see the Barbican Centre website.