The outlaw reputation of the Chelsea Hotel arises from the staggering number of writers, artists, poets and performers who have not only resided there but also died and committed manslaughter and suicide in the venue. Its iconic status has already been celebrated lyrically in poem and song but capturing a mood of decadence in the physical medium of modern dance is a different matter.
It has to be said that the Earthfall Dance Company cheat. They rely not only on live music to set the atmosphere but also projected images and extracts from diaries kept by residents. The latter are both illuminating and distracting. You can't help but try and guess the identity of the diarist – is the reader using a Germanic accent to indicate she is reading from Nico's diary or is she just European?
A note signed by ‘Robert' makes you conclude it is from Robert Mapplethorpe to Patti Smith but the dance it introduces is a shocking depiction of an abusive relationship. A female dancer is chucked around the stage like a rag doll constantly returning for further abuse.
Patti Smith, who is an influence on the production, compared the hotel to a doll's house in the Twilight Zone. Earthfall's efforts to capture this limbo state result in an agonisingly slow start. With glacial slowness the cast take seats around a kitchen table. Later the cast assume a frozen tableau with the four dancers immobile and suspended in space. When the first dance is performed it is surprisingly conventional – a simple jive; albeit on top of a fridge. Some of the scenes are quite literal; the cast put on the Victorian dresses which Smith describes the stoned out beauties wearing.
The famous songs inspired by the hotel are in the folk style and suitably stark. The music, composed and played by Frank Naughton, Sion Orgon and Felix Otaola, confounds expectations with chiming pop chords and pounding synth drums.
The four members of the company in conjunction with Lara Ward have choreographed the dance. Earthfall include some amusing sequences – a submissive/dominant relationship that may simply be a woman walking her dog- but the mood is largely aggressive. The company seem to have concluded that the main motive of the residents is self-destruction and shape their dance accordingly.
Although there are beautiful sequences of the company moving in sinewy unison there remains an undertone of violence throughout. A line dance not only features high kicks but also actual kicking as the dancers gradually start to wrestle and then kick at each other.
The romantic appeal of the Chelsea Hotel has never been easy to understand and the company seem content to enact the lives of the residents rather than clarify the situation. Earthfall's highly physical and at times disturbing production makes you feel that it might be a place you'd visit out of curiosity but you wouldn't want to live there.
- Dave Cunningham