Mad Dogs’ performance at Stage@Leeds represented a coming home to a gratifyingly full and enthusiastic audience for the acclaimed dance group after a short tour. From the purely theatrical viewpoint Dogs Land suffered in organisation: the brief dance prelude (impressively precise and varied) by students from the Mad Dogs Dance Intensive began 10 minutes late and lasted 10 minutes; a short break led to the 25-minute first half of Dogs Land and a 20-minute interval, so that 75 minutes after official curtain up, we had witnessed little more than 30 minutes of stage action! At least the foyer was full of keen expectation.
It says much for Douglas Thorpe’s dramatic choreography that the slightly longer second half holds the attention and has such a strong emotional impact. Written by Joanne Hartley, Dogs Land charts in dance the relationships – passionate, violent and tender – between two couples of dancers, with an actor (Kevin Lennon) who begins the performance with a fractured monologue from the stalls and gradually becomes part of the action.
Dancers Gemma Nixon, Lee Clayden, Ruth Janssen and Thomasin Gulgec have the athleticism to fill the large open stage area and the expressiveness to involve the audience in their emotions. Alan Dawson’s lighting (much dark and shadow, with bold use of spotlights) focussed attention firmly on their changing relationships. Douglas Thorpe’s choreography is intensely physical, but from time to time displays a pleasing wit and humour. At the height of a lovers’ quarrel (to Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night”) the man manipulates a blackboard on which she constantly writes, “This isn’t working” which he then attempts to erase by a shuffling dance wiping the backside of his trousers along the blackboard! More athletic moves follow and both end up covered in chalk! An equally off-the-wall use of popular song comes just before the attractively downbeat ending when Lennon launches into an extravagant mime to Roy Orbison’s “Crying”. Much of the soundtrack compiled by Junior Wilcocks is repetitively atmospheric, reflecting the turbulent on-stage action.