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GIRLS ON A PLATTER

Print Version

In Flagrante
Co-producers: MaryJane O'Reilly, Phil O'Reilly, Peter Styles
Choreographer: Mary Jane O'Reilly

at The Basement, Auckland
27 Apr 2011
[1 hour 15 mins]

Reviewed by Jack Gray, 29 Apr 2011


Sex. There I said it.
Now, let's talk about In Flagrante - the show billed as Mary Jane's (O'Reilly of Limbs, Commonwealth Games 1990 Opening, Auckland Dance Company and Tempo Dance Festival fame) “deviant” new take on the Burlesque revival.
Earlier this year, MJ's open call for dancers for her newest idea (inspired by the art of ‘Burlesque') led to auditions perfect for the crossover commercial slash contemporary dance type of "girl". Rumours circulated of some girls dropping into the splits to impress, and as expected, a “felinic” (as opposed to phallic?) a-rising of tensions (seen and unseen) between the scantily clad as their inner ambitions became disrobed.
[If you have ever watched “Girls of the Playboy Mansion” or “America's Next Top Model” you'll know that invisible feminine divisiveness naturally surfaces when women are housed together, apparently making for compelling viewing.]   
The casting process whittled down the numbers, and MJ's original plan to have a troupe of five dancers with a few extra replacements (“on the bench” so to speak) ended up as a dedicated group of six dancers rehearsing part-time, here and there, towards the creation of her own unique Burlesquey, Cabaret-ish, Modern Dance-ish style integration.
[Commendably, MJ and her husband Phil, invested their own finances, time and dedication towards getting the project up and running without any funding assistance.]
Sufficiently aroused (my curiosity that is), I made initial enquiries about the show's progress. Keeping their mystery intact, the dancers teasingly suggested that costume options possibly included a “merkin” (pubic wig), equestrian riding gear and other fetishes. As the murmurs tickled my fanciful ears – I decided not to “kill the cat” (by peeking into rehearsals), willingly biding my time until a first full unveiling.
[Preview night was performed twice in the dim, dungeon-like black box of “The Basement” to a sell-out crowd of interested friends, flatmates, family, dancers and general punters].
The choreographer's main motivation (aside from giving dancers employment opportunities) is simply to entertain audiences, by banking on Burlesque's current popularity (with the recent movie, niche shows and performers aplenty), and providing a perfect vehicle to guarantee “bums on seats” by putting “bums on stage” (and also in your face, for that matter).
[Who doesn't want (more) bang for their buck?]
“In flagrante”  (latin for “blazing”) is sometimes colloquially used as a euphemism for couples being caught in the act of sexual intercourse. So of course the way you might react to the show probably has something to do with how you view, experience or react to the notion of SEX.
While waiting in the mad throng queuing to collect tickets for the 10pm show, I had a chance to gossip with those warmed up from the 8pm session.
[“There were so many different people in the front row from gay to straight to bi, men, women…it's the kinda show that makes some people get turned off or others get hard – there's something for everybody” said one lady friend. Her male companion summed it up in one word: “Erotic”.]
Anticipation mounted.
The show unfolds as a series of short dances (with Limbs-style repetition of motifs) all performed to a perfectly easy listening jazz album with an evocative female voice.
The introduction has a strong beat matched by a sturdy, shocking blonde (Dietrich-esque) who wears a mouth guard, thigh high leather boots and bra and panties. Confronting the audience and moving in slow, muscular actions – the playful pelvic thrust and hands gripping breasts – basically puts "the girls" on the platter for a voyeuristic menu.
Each performer makes their separate entrances, like a sushi train of female flesh. Naturally you can't help but notice slight differences – a few pounds here, an abdominal muscle there, tall or short, blonde or brunette.
The show evenly disperses solo moments between the group pieces. There is no narrative or thread as such – and the sequence of dances could easily be pulled apart and performed in any which way.
Some of the solos need more refinement or perhaps a roughing up. Striking a balance between sexiness and something staged is the rather elusive (and rightfully so) ingredient in this chamber of lingerie.
There are differences in the way each girl projects her particular example of femininity (or in one case ‘masculinity as the solo was performed in male garb with top hat and cane). The most captivating of these solos is Megan Smith's brilliant “Police Officer Hot-Dogging”. Choreographically the least indulgent, her dance mixes precision timing with comedic elements to leave the audience wanting more.
Group dances are more problematic. What is most important about this type of performance is how the dancers play the audience and invite them in -- the performer's ability to do this is crucial. The four galloping ponies dance, for example, sees them prettily trotting while gagging on their bits, and though some of the dancers rise to the moment, it doesn't manage to take us from the serious to the sublime. Perhaps with more performances everyone's understanding of what they are presenting will develop .
[If there was a pony contest of this kind performed by a gaggle of drag queens, by contrast, the audience would be in stitches yet somehow mildly titillated with the irreverent mockery of sexuality.]
So ultimately did the audience get the feeling of being caught, or catching them in the act?
I suppose it depends on the sensibility of the viewer, and their response to the level the show is designed for. In my humble opinion, the sex appeal contained is harmless, easy going, mild fun. Was I entertained? Yes. Shocked? No. I enjoyed elements. There is definitely room to keep pushing and playing with the boundaries of comfortabilty. It certainly wasn't ever “deviant”.
[I've seen a panty-less Alexa Wilson wielding an axe onstage on one occasion (glimpsed, actually, because I had my eyes closed the whole time and was squinting to check - but that might qualify.]  
I happen to think the naked body and female form to be a gorgeous thing. I find the oddest things sexy. I wonder if the girls could get more in your face somehow? Demand something more of the audience? (A friend's boyfriend wouldn't come because he said “I'd rather pay $20 at The White House?”).
[Last year's “Cabaret” by the Auckland Theatre Company was a complete hoot and so so sexy! Maybe these girls need a ringleader, or someone who gets the audience ‘in the mood'?]
I said to my friend afterwards (who happens to be a hot brown chick) “That show needed some gravy on the taties” and she replied eyes gleaming, “Give me that whip!”
In the bar afterwards, a viewer felt like she had just thumbed through a woman's magazine and that it “objectified” women and had revealed too much too soon, whilst another found it exciting and liberating! 
The joys of pleasing people eh? As they say – “Different Strokes for Different Folks!”
[The show promises to return at some point during the year – possibly around Tempo Dance Festival time.]
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