Dancing On Your Grave

Pacific Blue Festival Club (Shed 6), Wellington

27/02/2010 - 05/03/2010

Expressions Arts & Entertainment Centre - Upper Hutt, Wellington

02/03/2010 - 02/02/2010

New Zealand International Arts Festival 2010

Production Details

A five-piece troupe of deceased and downtrodden music hall artistes take you on a tour through performers’ purgatory. With live music written and performed by Steve Blake and Nigel Burch, this deliciously funny production is a cabaret-style theatre act with a devilish twist.

"Toe-tapping epitaphs, spectral harmonies and bonerattling banjoleles" are all part of Dancing on Your Grave’s deadly delights. Determined and resolute, the performers dance and sing their way through manic banjo tunes, resplendent with gruesomely witty lyrics. Styled to look like ‘vaudeville zombies’ with a touch of glamour thrown in, the marvellously maudlin cast will take you on a wholly entertaining trek beyond the grave.

This award-winning company has performed at a myriad of weird and wonderful venues – from large and small theatres to bridges and beaches. They’ve also performed at the Tate Modern and Glastonbury. Don’t miss out on this fantastically fatal production. "You won’t rest in peace until you see this."

Pacific Blue Festival Club (Shed 6):

27- 28 Feb; 3-5 Mar
Check programme of website for times
Expressions/ Genesis Energy Theatre, Upper Hutt:

02 Mar, 8.00pm – 9.00pm

Mock-Gothic singing and dancing like puppets from Hell

Review by Jennifer Shennan 07th Mar 2010

Dancing on Your Grave comes from the UK, and is in the best cabaret-cum-music hall tradition of early 20th century that is yet right up with the 21st.

Performers are The Cholmondeleys and The Featherstonehaughs — that’s “Chumleys” and “Fanshawes” to you and me (though if you say “Marjoribanks” while others say “Marshbanks”, you won’t be phased by the eccentricities of English pronunciation.) 

The hour-long show is mock-Gothic, stitch-makingly funny songs and dances from the dark side. It is delivered in faultlessly dead-pan fashion, with the plunking of banjo / mandolin, and rhythms that can stay half a beat behind or ahead of what you’re expecting.

The white-face cast of five share the singing and dancing, with movements impeccably timed like puppets from Hell. Only in the quieter moments did we regret the proximity of the venue to the Festival Club whence a din to match the underworld emanates.

These performers trace their formation back some years to The Laban Centre, one of the livelier dance training scenes in UK, where Matthew Bourne, famed for Swan Lake (with a cast of male swans), also trained. Must be some good coffee in the school’s cafeteria there I reckon.
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Clever cabaret show compromised by tight row seating

Review by Raewyn Whyte 28th Feb 2010

Song and dance combine in Victorian music hall entertainment style in Dancing on Your Grave, performed by five apparently deceased members of the Corpse de Ballet in utterly deadpan style. 

A dozen or so ditties and ballads about death are mostly delivered by the banjolele playing performer-songwriters Steve Blake and Nigel Burch, dressed as somewhat down at heel bowler-hatted undertakers. Backing vocals and some additional instrumentation (kazoo, cow bell) are provided by the dancers: woebegone Ryen Perkins-Gangnes and chic Valentina Formenti, dressed as Pierrot and Pierette, and the androgynous Maho Ihara in black taffeta overshorts and spotted halter top with cream beanie.

The action takes place on a tiny stage barely large enough to contain the dancing, about half the size of a boxing ring. Fluorescent strip lighting attached at floor level provides ghoulish underlighting which intensifies the impact of their thick white face paint with blackened lips and eye markings. The mood is mostly mordant, but there moments of hilarity and ripples of laughter in the audience when rhyming couplets emerge in the lyrics.

By turns macabre and morbid, instructional and advisory, or just plain loony, the songs tackle death. Mortality, remembrance and dissolution with a good deal of wit. They convey messages from “the Other Side” which encourage the audience to make the most of living while they can because “there’s no more drinking when you’re dead” and “everybody’s single when they’re dead”. 

Death is no fun at all, they warn, though it has its advantages: you don’t have to do any housework, and there are no bills to pay. Descartes features in one song, and there are references to Mozart and Einstein. Above all, they warn, “Death is nature’s way of telling you to slow down”.

The dancers illustrate some song scenarios – most notably Ihara’s trenchant miming of successive methods of suicide – cutting her throat, slitting her belly and pulling out the intestines, shooting her brains out, putting her head in a gas oven, and throwing herself off a series of successively taller buildings. But mostly the dancers are simply singing or mugging to the music, with occasional jazz-type dance routines for some surprisingly jaunty tunes.

The choreography by Lea Anderson explores all the possible ways to move within the confines of the stage, and exploits death-related gestural patterns delivered with minimal pedestrian movement. It also emphasises a lack of vivacity, of course; these performers are, after all, supposedly deceased and on a tour in Purgatory.

It’s a clever production, and it feels as if it has been designed for a relaxed and intimate cabaret setting. Unfortunately, at this Festival it is being presented to an audience crammed uncomfortably into tight rows facing the stage.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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