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Drop Dead Gorgeous, Purcell Room, London

By Stuart Sweeney

Dance Europe

Works on the theme of war or human rights have a special resonance for me. These artists from Poland and the UK devised this Tanztheater piece in the second half on 2001 and September 11th came during the creation process. However, the strongest impression for me was of Grozny. Before writing this review I looked at a website with recent images of that devastated city and one view is of the ruins of the ironically named Peace Street.

Drop Dead Gorgeous opens with a bare wall of wooden planks close to the front of the stage, with broken slates on the floor. Most of the first part of the work was performed on this narrow strip and I’m sure I was not alone in having concerns for the safety of the dancers as they hurled themselves repeatedly onto this mass of rough edges. The commitment and intensity of the performers is remarkable and ensured that the work kept my attention throughout.

However, the episodic nature of the piece, with little clear development beyond an opening out of the action to the full stage in the second half is indicative of some structural problems. There are some scenes with a lighter theme which, as in Christopher Bruce’s Swansong, are necessary to provide some relief, but some misfire.

There are strong visions, including one where hands appear through gaps between planks in the wall to strip one of the women, leaving her crouching desolately on the floor. Another woman spends much of the time on crutches and in a duet with a consoling friend the crutches take on a new life and sweep through the air, perhaps indicating some temporary relief from the ever-present horrors. Towards the end, the performers delve into pockets at the back of the stage and walk towards us with their hands covered in blood.

The initial knowing smiles in this scene are puzzling and soon turn to despair. One by one the characters face the audience and beg us to shoot them.

Some scenes work and others don’t, but I did get a sense of the impact of interminable war on ordinary people. Despite the almost unrelenting grimness I’m glad that I saw Drop Dead Gorgeous.

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