The work of dANTE OR dIE, under the direction of Daphna Attias and Terry O’Donovan, sees its latest explorative dance-theatre piece taking over a host of buildings across the capital this year with La Fille à la Mode. Inspired by the first-ever production at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 1720, the piece depicts what is described in the programme as “the essence of the It Girl”. The eight strong all-female ensemble interject this essence of the ‘It Girl’ and femininity through a series of snapshots of intimate encounters across the given performance space, in this case within the building of the National Theatre.
The thing that makes La Fille à la Mode so alluring as a piece is not so much the tales and presentations of these characters as women of fashion or sexual exploitation, but the placement of them within the space. The invasion of dance and narrative that seemingly collide against the angular structure of the National Theatre makes for an eye-opening experience. The design of the National Theatre as a building is a strange and complex one, that has even caused one critic to ask for a compulsory demolition order, and if truth be told I’ve always hated the concrete clad building that stands so domininate on the South Bank. Yet as La Fille à la Mode sweeps its audience from the carpark to the lifts, through the foyer space and corridors of the Olivier Theatre, I can’t help but be enlightened by the building. The performers merge, shift and command the spaces through dance, song or dialogue. Their bodies seemingly melt into the staircases and hang from banisters, re-imagining the space and even allow unwary theatre patrons to stumble upon the work.
It’s not all conceptual, though, as La Fille à la Mode has some wonderful narrative moments that sees these women who don fashionable clothes declaring that “A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous!”, a homage to the late Coco Chanel. The piece isn’t just about the ensemble dancing their way around the National Theatre. Directors Attias and O’Donovan look at the way in which we view ‘the woman’ as a symbol of fashion, sex and counter-part to men. The ensemble might be dressed to impress, but throughout the performance we walk past lone performers weeping and disheveled in corners and corridors. La Fille à la Mode is very much an empowerment of woman, whilst simultantiously their downfall. It’s a poignant message that seems to be entwined into the work, one which I’m sure Blayne George as dramaturg on the project has helped to shape.
In terms of the dance, the movement is very much a repetitive cannon of gestures and moments. Yet the placement of the dancers and moments helps to define the work too. At times we are separated from the dancers by glass or different playing levels, and at others we are thrust into a tight corridor where it’s impossible to not feel the intimacy of the moment.
For a piece that goes beyond just the themes of the work, and manages to impact upon the surroundings of something as solid as a building of the National Theatre, dANTE OR dIE has excelled in La Fille à la Mode. The piece seems to carve its way through the building bringing out images and glimpsed episodes amongst the stairwells and carpeted corridors. It’s inventive, playful, and lovingly portrayed. I would question how far the piece goes to fulfill the audience’s need for further narrative, but for a piece that seems to portray a collection of images and themes, it does work. Alluring, seductive, and compelling – a wonderful connection to be had for those who seek it out.
La Fille à la Mode is now on tour. For more information on dANTE OR dIE, see the website here.