Opening Night by Les SlovaKs was a glorious, emotional, funny, beautifully messy hour of dance in the Purcell Room at Southbank Centre.
Five male dancers and a violinist waited on a bare stage as the audience entered, smiling and waiting gently. What occurred once the show began was absolutely captivating. The performance was billed as five childhood friends drawing on their friendship, past and present, in improvised form paired with Slovakian folk songs. This simple explanation turned out to be the only context that was needed; it was down to imagination and physical language to do the rest.
It is hard to pin-point exactly what it was that made this show so wonderful. There was an air of alertness that can only come with improvisation, and the men were very at ease and responsive with contact-based movement. The ripple effect each time a dancer made a new choice was fascinating, and yet not guaranteed to play out the way you would expect. In one movement sequence that appeared to be established, the section suddenly was called to an abrupt stop – for no reason than to play with something new which made it even more refreshing!
There were three very defined characters in the way the collective played this evening, and two more subtle, which felt very true to the nature of friendships when given a short sharp snapshot. A solo dance by one such strong character, that reminded me at one point of a crab desperately travelling to water on a hot beach and at another point of a boy exploring his plight, became heart-wrenching and lonely. The rough and tumble relief of having the rest of the dancers join him in ensemble again after this display, in a brotherly and loving style, was the root of a wave of infectious joy.
The sixth player in this performance was a violinist, whose music became a dancer in itself. The music was executed in perfect synergy with the dancing. Whistles, vocals and conversations smattered through from time to time, but the heartbeat of this dance was a violin and a loop pedal.
They fell over, pulled and lifted each other up, got into all sorts of knots and compromising positions and yet these unpolished bursts made it all the more engaging. I felt fully immersed in this dance experience and judging by the three curtain calls by the sold-out Purcell Room, I was not alone.
Les SlovaKs played at the Southbank Centre. For more information, see the Les SlovaKs Facebook page.