Working the Devil @ Zoo Roxy
Working the Devil @ Zoo Roxy

Working the Devil @ Zoo Roxy

2/5 stars
Feature by Gareth K Vile.
Published 31 August 2011

The Dog Hill Kennel Project are a trinty of British choreographers, battling with the limits of what dance can be. They are familiar with the use of deconstruction, taking apart the expected roles of dancer, choreographer and audience. They reflect on the mechanics behind performance and exploit the absurd mismatch between the smooth appearance of a show and the messy processes that create it.

Throughout the first entry in this double bill, The Devil and the Details, there also seems to be a profound embarassment about actually doing any dancing. Rachel Lopez de la Nieta plays the choreographer-dictator with an attention to fascist detail, bullying the dancer and condescending to the audience, while deconstructing the process behind the creation of a simple sequence. Yet the disappointingly rambling structure undermines the moments of wit and satire.

Hinterview, part two, is based on an interesting idea, which is presented in another ramshackle series of disconnected sequences. A dancer shares her work with other professionals, contrasting the apparently mystical process of dance with more mundane occupations. The moments of explanation - particularly of particular moves, and their associated meanings - bring the final dance to life, yet the repetition of speeches, and the uneven relationship between text and choreography blunts the impact of the idea.

Dog Kennel Hill's uncertainty is reflected in the uneasy combination of sound, dance and words: if they are expressing a deeper concern about the difficulties of making work in a contemporary context, this tentative approach is appropriate. Yet to combine it with parodies of stereotyped choreographers, and to lock themselves so firmly into their own processes, ensures that a self-conscious cleverness rather than intelligence flavours the double bill. The preoccupation with dance - or physical theatre - as a process shuts out any wider issues, leaving a sense of self-indulgence: this is not a work that uses the dancer's life as a springboard for broader reflections on control or social alienation, even though the pieces are interested in these areas.

There is currently plenty of theatre that grapples with the audience-performer relationship - Onterend Goed are perhaps the most notorious fourth wall smashers - and DHKP are kinder than many companies. They have a dry, ironic distance and are exploring a great many ideas - Hinterland pokes at socio-economic progress by emphasising the otherness of the artist. They are bravely looking to European styles, and acknowledge contemporary aesthetic philosophies about the inherent problems of the idea of the artist. Nevertheless, the old values of tight structure and compassionate communication with the audience are still valid, and cannot be replaced by self-conscious wit.