Claire Cunningham & Jess Curtis: The Way You Look (At Me) Tonight
Like an air bubble in water, or a little space under a quilt, there and with us, Claire Cunningham and Jess Curtis danced in the Royal Festival Hall, made it feel small, and together performed The Way You Look (at me) Tonight.
They were definitely with us, rather than in front or out of touch like I assume with theatre. There were audience members all over the stage, actually. Cunningham and Curtis navigated through them, over, around; with eye contact and touch, and without imposition. They told their audience to react in any way they wanted; to leave if they felt like it. And they kept settling and being generous with their company throughout (in a way I want of all artists, curators, writers, lecturers, politicians, everyone). Jess and Claire would move and do dance things, yeah, but then they would stop, look at the audience, talk about what they’d just done, and explain what they were about to do. So, between poetic dance, they had this clear conversation: like stage directions, descriptions, intentions. And I’m so GLAD, because contemporary dance is weird. The theatre is a weird place to spend an evening. And yet, I felt secure and focused, impressed. The choreography was cut with more speaking - video projections of a philosopher talking about Socrates’ epistemology of philosophy. His delivery was also tight. And the gestalt of dance, philosophy, and language was clever (comfortable even), because this self-aware, meta-, formal accessibility facilitated a parallel action in the The Way You Look (at me) Tonight: Claire and Jess were holding their identities away from them. It’s like art-depersonalisation allowed them to pull out character and identity politics, and we watched then how these identities moved with crutches and stiff hips, with queerness, and rushing pressure. Dance makes sense then - it’s formal sincerity again. Dance for performing the self.
The narrative was gilded with a weepy romance, and I think it is where we see them bringing their identities back to their chests, after putting them away and scrutinising them so clinically. They made the decision to hold themselves tight, to fall into themselves anew. The end of the performance is an emotional slope. After total skill and stiff conversation (literally and in movement) - feeling came out in head to head confession. Claire hung from a ladder, she sang, and then stood framed by projections of her admissions. Jess was charming and aware of that, he had this funny-sad irony and like, a deliberate rich vacancy. They were both endearing, the whole performance was. I felt very warm all night.