The View From the Dress Circle: I Can’t Do That. By Charlotte Raven


We are very pleased to be able to share this article by Charlotte Raven to accompany the screening of ‘Audition Project’ on LADA Screens which is online from 9 – 22 June 2016.

Five, six, seven, eight… A couple of weeks ago, I spent six hours in the dress circle of the Birmingham Hippodrome, watching the audition scene from the 1985 film, A Chorus Line, rehearsed, refined, triumphantly performed and filmed ‘redux’ by Richard DeDomenici. This feat of endurance was a durational work in itself. It took me ages to find way to my seat and once I was there, I didn’t dare go backstage in case I couldn’t find my way back. So I sat there in this advantageous position feeling like Zack, the brutal but brilliant director in the film, with my appraising eyes noting every mistimed kick.

The project was a collaboration between people who don’t often meet; live artists frequently work alone and the Audition Project, conceived and directed by Miss High Leg Kick as a ‘snapshot of the performing arts in 2016’, was an opportunity to step in time together.

Apart from some VIPs from the Arts Council who came along in the afternoon, I was the only witness to this exuberant spectacle. It felt very odd to be the only audience member, but quite nice, as if the whole thing was being staged for me. I felt like a billionaire who had paid an irresistible amount of money to get some performers to play at my birthday party. With these live artists as the warm up act, I would not have been surprised to see Siegfried and Roy bringing on the tigers or Marilyn jumping out of a cake to follow.

A confession: I can’t dance. Whenever I try, at weddings or parties, I stumble self- consciously. I can only move my upper body – which was okay for Northern Soul dancing when I was a teenager but hopeless for house music. I love dance music but I can’t lose myself in it; I’m always thinking about it rather than taking part. My husband says I dance like Lulu (when has he seen Lulu dance?) I have two left feet, and now I have Huntington’s disease, a degenerative neurological condition that makes co-ordinated movements even more difficult. Watching this performance was challenging; I was confronted with the undeniable fact that I would never make the Chorus Line. I envied the performers on the stage at the Birmingham Hippodrome, apart from the ones I identified with, who were finding it more challenging.

A man in shorts seemed to be struggling with the routine. He spent the breaks repeating the moves over and over again. There was such a lot to remember… they kept adding new bits and the structure of the dance seemed to elude him. I admired Joshua Sofaer’s dedication; his willingness to get out of his ‘comfort zone’ was touching. The project is all about the process not the end result. Throughout the day, there were poignant little cameos where artists slipped in and out of character, portraying a larger drama; the struggle of the individual.

Nao Nagai, dressed as a cod, had her freedom of movement severely restricted. She couldn’t move her arms, so she shuffled around the stage looking sad, with a down-turned mouth like an emoticon. My heart went out to her but really applauded his surreal interpretation of the brief. The performers had been encouraged to devise costumes that developed their personae or riffed on the clothes and characters in the film. There were no fish in the film, but there were lots of legwarmers and leotards. I lost count of the number of men in tights and Christopher Green looked very convincing in just the right shade of lime green, as Sheila, the ‘older’ woman in the film.

I watched the film for the first time a couple of nights ago with my seven-year-old son. He didn’t register the inappropriate bits but I found the atmosphere really oppressive. If I spent my teenage years dancing in my bedroom and dreaming of stardom, then this would put me off. It was claustrophobic; the whole thing is set in a theatre and never moves location. It begins with thousands of people standing in line outside the theatre and ends with the four successful candidates performing a number that seems out of synch with their dreams in tiny bowler hats.

‘Is this what you want Cassie?’

Zach’s girlfriend left him to pursue her Hollywood dream and now she’s back, begging to be allowed to audition for the chorus line. This question hangs in the air, while the scene on the stage looks like a fairground in a horror film.

Back at the rehearsal everyone was out of sync with each other and off the beat. There was so much waiting around, and repetitions. Is this what film sets are like? In the gaps between ‘takes’ I demanded coffee and wished I could find my way out of the building to have a cigarette. HD makes me clingy; I was more high maintenance than the performers. But there were no big egos in evidence on the stage and everyone seemed thrilled to be working with each other. They seemed to be having a laugh. All seventy five of them.

Finally, they all came out in costume, ready for the filming. Joshua reappeared in a burgundy vest (to match a close up character from the film) and fake nose. He had mastered those moves but still looked nervous. Barbara Brownskirt looked hot in a zipped up cagoule. Delivering a restrained performance, live art eminence Richard Layzell stood out.

They nailed it in the end but it wouldn’t have mattered if they hadn’t. Unlike the film, there are no losers in the Audition Project and no disappointing outcomes. The Audition Project is redemptive and inclusive; I’m a part of it too. There is a picture of the performers taken from the back of the stage that shows the empty auditorium. You can just make me out in the front row of the dress circle.

Miss High Leg Kick and her team will be reprising the audition project at a free public event at the Brighton Festival. Shall I sign up for it? It says no dance experience is needed and it may be my chance to come down from the dress circle and change my perspective.

I’m not sure if I should risk it…but what would Lulu do?

Banner image credit:

Audition Project by Miss High Leg Kick

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