The Elders Project

Purcell Room, Southbank, London

© Tony Nandi

© Tony Nandi

Originally part of Sadler’s Wells Elixir Festival `celebrating lifelong creativity’, this short, sweet 15 minute divertissement, cleverly put together by choreographer Jonathan Burrows and longtime music collaborator Matteo Fargion was subsequently dubbed `the best dance moment in 2014’.

A little hyperbolic you might think. But in The Elders Project, Burrows and Fargion who’ve worked together for 25 years enjoying an international reputation as a duo who create delightfully off-beat work, have taken a handful of professional, retired dancers, captured their essence with a few deft brush strokes and created something fresh and new that subtly speaks to all kinds of issues about ageing.

Dance can sometimes carry a heavy air of pretension. But not here where a ribald sense of irreverence prevails. Each dancer is introduced with a couple of lines – the studio room or church hall where they first remembered dancing and what they now do when not dancing – in one case, scuba diving, in another sitting in the garden nursing a glass of wine! Matteo accompanies each with a pithy spoken musical refrain sometimes echoing Kurt Weill, at other times snatches of favourites such as Claire de Lune.

© Tony Nandi

© Tony Nandi

In between, the dancers – taken from the Royal Ballet, Second Stride, London Contemporary Dance Theatre and the Siobhan Davies Dance Company – show still continuing suppleness and flexibility despite, in one case, a bionic hip.

Sometimes the action can be simply a walk across the stage. At others a lift (Namron, from LCDT declared he only accepted the invitation so he could lift Linda Gibbs which he duly did, with a beaming smile). An arm raised by the RB’s Brian Bertscher in a sweeping port de bras is met with ripples of applause from the other dancers as if in recognition of moments enjoyed, now gone.

With today’s emphasis on `the third age’ – and both Sadler’s Wells and Rada now have dedicated community projects aimed at involving elderly performers – events like The Elders Project is a delicate reminder of ageing’s beauty rather than its limitations.

Once a dancer, always a dancer and as the performers noted in the short discussion afterwards, back onstage again, the body remembers.

First published in Reviewsgate, April 2015