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Naive Dance Masterclass
Published on Sunday, 08 May 2011

4 stars

The Nightingale (venue website)
6, 8 May, 7:00pm-7:50pm; 7 May, 7:00pm-7:50pm, 10:15pm-11:05pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Suitable for age 15+ only.
 Warning: Contains flashing lights.

It's a rare privilege to witness the emergence of a brand new art form - especially one with such natural power, fed by the potential that lives inside us all. But in this inspirational, seminal masterclass, renowned contemporary dancer Matt Rudkin... oh, I can't keep a straight face; this whole thing's a spoof, an eloquent parody of the excesses of performance art, and a joyfully liberating way to spend the better part of an hour.

The fake tutorial kicks off with a nonsensical opening monologue, as our class leader explains how "shedding his Lycra skin" proved the genesis for a new style he calls Naïve Dance. As his lecture proceeds, the offbeat juxtapositions and random conceits just keep on coming, rendered alarmingly real by the perfect characterisation of a self-centred expert holding court on stage.  He walks pretentiously, he talks pretentiously and, gosh, he even swears pretentiously; he goes far enough to confirm it's a joke, but not so far that it couldn't possibly be real.  The script, too, is filled with well-chosen barbs, taking a devastatingly surgical knife to all which has ever dwelled at the likes of the ICA.
And the Naïve Dance itself, when we finally get to see it, is the sharpest in-joke of all.  If you’ve ever sat po-faced through an inscrutable piece and wondered if they’re laughing inside, you’ll revel in the conspiratorial knowledge that this time, they really are having you on.  All the same, there's genuine skill on display - I hadn't known it was physically possible to do quite so much with a hula hoop - and the dance, for all that it's ridiculous, isn't without beauty.

There's a plot twist too, which I wouldn't dream of spoiling, but which does reveal that some of the wilder fancies of the opening half were there for more than just giggles.  Still, there’s not a lot of story for a 50-minute show, and I'm left with the sense that each individual gag was laboured for slightly too long.

But if your mind does wander at any stage, hang on in there for the rewarding finale. There's the punchline to end all punchlines, then our instructor leave the stage - and we're thrown into a quirky, tragi-comic addendum, a memorable final flourish to send us on our way. There's a real thoughtfulness beyond all the lampooning, and ultimately, this witty show's intelligent iconoclasm proves anything but naïve.

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