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Cowpuncher My Ass at the Southbank Centre

Very rarely do I see a show where, at the end, I’m not sure how I feel about it but I do know I’ve witnessed something extraordinary. I had this feeling last night as I left the Royal Festival Hall after seeing Holly Blakey Presents: Cowpuncher My Ass.

Cowpuncher My Ass - Photo credit- Arnaud Mbaki
Cowpuncher My Ass – Photo credit- Arnaud Mbaki.

According to the handout we were given, the show is described as “A wicked cowboy, malignant forms of self-robbery, the group, the clan, the desire for you to watch and love me and have me love you back. Destructive forms of self-robbery, pure taste and the aesthetics which provide its theories, context and begging, ownership and desire. Pleasure, pure pleasure, pleasure of the senses, pleasure of the group, self-indulgence Imprudent to the years of wishing my ass was as sweet as yours.” Having read this, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and entering the auditorium was no help as the Festival Hall stage was completely empty. Then the dancers (Meshach Henry, Chester Hayes. Grace Jabbari, Becky Namgauds. Jonny Vieco, Naomi Weijand and Moses Ward), each dressed in very different outfits and the show began.

Initially, the house lights didn’t go down which immediately played with my sense of how a performance is meant to be played out. I also was worried that the sound system in the RFH had gone as the noise emanating from the speakers was too loud – at times vibrating the seats – and had a really tinny quality to it that just didn’t sound right. Of course, this turned out to be a clever move on the part of Mica Levi, who wrote the original score, and the Sound Engineer, Simon Hendry.

The show lasted just over an hour and, if I’m honest, I’m not entirely sure I kept up with the storyline – if there was one. I am a fan of modern dance as many readers of my reviews know, and from a technical perspective, Choreographer Holly Blakey has really taken the art form to another level, a fact emphasised by the music of the London Contemporary Orchestra. There were issues occasionally with the dancers spread over the width of the RFH stage which meant it was really difficult to keep track of everything that was going on.

At times, shocking in its intensity, at others quite surreal in its beauty, the dancing was first-rate and held my attention throughout. It is difficult to describe Cowpuncher My Ass in detail to anyone that wasn’t there but, whilst I wasn’t always sure what was happening, and some parts I actively disliked, I definitely left feeling I had witnessed something truly amazing.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

A colourful and often violent tale of the Wild West, Cowpuncher My Ass is a story of fear and togetherness, featuring vivid costumes designed by Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood.

Choreographer Holly Blakey’s piece was first presented at the Southbank Centre in 2018. This latest version features seven performers and 20 musicians from the London Contemporary Orchestra to bring to life the original score composed by Mica Levi.

Wednesday 15th February 2023
https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/

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