Patti Smith once described New York’s notorious Chelsea Hotel as “a doll’s house in ‘The Twilight Zone’, with a hundred rooms, each a small universe. Everyone had something to offer and nobody seemed to have much money.” Audacious mixed-media dance group Earthfall spin an imaginative take on what ‘The Chelsea’ might have been like in its heyday, based in part on Smith’s exploits with artist Robert Mapplethorpe, Sid Vicious’ drug-induced misadventures and Warhol’s revolutionary, often salacious, films The Chelsea Girls and Lonesome Cowboy.
From one woman’s realisation that her boyfriend loves another man, to two men acknowledging their inner passions in a steamy, body-slapping dance, the show covers a range of relationship quandaries in an account of a hedonistic time. While it may not be entirely accurate, it's a good attempt at envisioning what a young Bob Dylan might have experienced when living there in the mid ‘60s or perhaps what Dylan Thomas’ last days might have been like before his death in 1953.
What drives this 70 minute mash-up of athletic movement, video projection and live music fusing bluegrass, rock and punk is not just the fascinating exploration into a taboo period but its ability to integrate each of the elements without ever over-crowding a single scene. Artistic director Jessica Cohen (who co-directed with her husband Jim Ennis) describes the cross-mixing of media as a layering: first the choreography, then the video installation and lastly a bit of music. Each aesthetic component intertwines perfectly, resembling something like your gran’s best Victoria sponge cake. But always with the dance at its heart.
The four performers, whose roles change between scenes, manoeuvre with sexual tension and a twinkle of mischief. Aggression could not be better purported than in the fiery sequence between Ros Haf Brooks, Sebastian Langueneur and Alex Marshall Parsons, where bodies are literally hurled to the floor and then thrown into a suspended hanging position. This is supremely cool choreography that evokes gasps from the audience – “How can they do that?!”.
Earthfall might have passed under most radars, but as this show highlights – it won’t be for long. Chelsea Hotel is uniquely crafted and expertly executed – this thanks to Jessica Cohen and Jim Ennis’ open style of directing, allowing the cast and creative team to interpret the material with flair and originality.
Watch out for the chocolate on the way out – the wrapper directs you to an app that reveals three secret scenes.
Chelsea Hotel is showing until Saturday 16 November at Riverside Studios, 7.45pm. Tickets are £15 (£12 concessions) with a running time of 70 minutes without interval.