Joseph Simons packs a punch with every sentence he speaks. Lively, energetic and full of flare, he took to the stage with his quick talking mouth and sharp wit to educate the audience in just an hour on a whole century of dance. This is no small feat, but Simons is more than apt to perform such a task and does so with the utmost vigour.
The show opened with Simons perched at a school desk, watching a black and white slideshow on the different types of dance throughout the world and decades. It varied from Bollywood to ballroom and ballet to cabaret to display just how diverse the styles can be. As that ended, hesprung around and launched into a spiel on how much he loves dance and why we all should too. And with that, the presentation began.
Simons informed us that to explain dance and its influencers, it couldn’t be told chronologically. Everyone was inspired by everyone, yet they all managed to create their own styles of dance using the same body parts that we were all gifted with. This added to Simons’ lamentation – how on earth was he supposed to create his own style of dance when it seems like everything has already been discovered?!
He began his presentation in the 1930’s, the era of Martha Graham as she broke the mould for classical ballet with her performance, Lamentation. Simons speaks of her as a defiant rebel who led the way for the next generation of dancers to push the boundaries of what they’d been told to stick within. He proceeded to then perform an interpretation of Lamentation in a big, red tube of ‘stretched jersey’, as he liked to call it. The dance was odd and caterpillar-like, resulting in peals of laughter from the audience.
Next up was the 50’s, the decade of Merce Cunningham and contemporary dance. I found it intriguing as Simons explained the formula that Cunningham used to create his performances, selecting sequences of movements, music, lighting and costumes at random, leaving the fate of the performance all to chance. Contemporary has always been a confusing style to me (and many others, for that matter) but Simons’ managed to make it just a little less nonsensical and for that, I am glad.
An introduction to the world of jazz was served up next, Simons performing a jazz routine all the while teaching the audience about Bob Fosse and his fascination for hats and gloves. It was highly amusing as he hit the beat with a fluttering hand or bounce while spouting facts about the style of dance that is still so popular today.
One of the highlights of the show was Simons’ rendition of Gillian Lynne’s, Cats. Dressed in a white blouse with a tie for a tail, he flounced and pounced his way through an explanation
of Lynne’s contribution to the history of dance to the tune of ‘Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats’. I’ve never seen anything quite like it and I don’t think that I probably will again, much to the dismay of the audience who absolutely lapped it up.
The audience learnt about the harsh methods of Gene Kelly and his dedication to perfection, Rudolf Nureyev’s temper tantrums and tights, and Pina Bauche and her eclectic group of German dancers who went on to take the world by storm. Simons speaks about each figure so lovingly, as if he knew each of them personally. His passion and fervour about dance is what makes the show so enjoyable – if only every history lesson was this much fun to watch!
Now, it wouldn’t be a Fringe show unless it involved some type of audience participation and so as the end was nigh, so was the time for everyone to get up and dance as Simons choreographed a routine for us to perform with him. It was fitting to end the show in a party and it was clear by the audience members around me that they enjoyed participating in the subject that they’d just been given a lengthy, yet energising lesson on.
Simons really hit the nail on the head with this show. Although it may not be for everyone, if you have an interest in dancing or theatre, then 100 Years of the History of Dance is a must-see for you. Laden with factual information but still told in an entertaining way, it strikes the perfect balance between history and performance.
100 Years of the History of Dance as Told by One Man in 60 Minutes with an Energetic Group Finale is on until 16th February as part of the Fringe World Festival Perth.
Images are courtesy of Fringe World Festival.