Boys and girls come out to play as The Featherstonehaughs (pronounced Fanshaws) and The Cholmondeleys (pronounced Chumlees) swap frocks and go on a journey of transformation. Mark Fisher talks to choreographer Lea Anderson (pronounced

Anderson) about wit and wisdom.

’ve cracked it. It all comes down to

. . , It’s appropriate that this most accessible of clippings. When I met playwright Alan

choreographers should feed not on the esoteric Bleasdale recently, he opened his and obscure, but on the readily available debris briefcase and a selection of curious of media culture. When she tells you. for newspaper reports, carefully collected and example, that there are two drummers in The catalogued, spilled out onto the table Victims of Death, the band that accompanies (more on that next issue). Choreograher Lea her latest show, she happily acknowledges links Anderson, meanwhile, makes a habit of cutting with the Glitter Band and Adam and the Ants. out photographs from magazines. ‘I collect Despite the apparent unpronounceability of her little pictures of interesting situations or two companies, The Cholmondeleys and The shapes,’ says the woman responsible for not Featherstonehaughs, Anderson’s work is as one, but two of Britiain’s most exciting young down to earth as if they were written just plain dance companies. ‘I show them to the dancers old Chumlees and Fanshaws. and they pretend to be the people in the Progressing from teenage punk band to art- Pictures for me.’ school performance art and then to the Laban

Centre for Dance, Anderson is one of a narrow strata of choreographers like Lloyd Newson and Michael Clark, whose work rejects convention and celebrates the new, the fresh and, importantly, the witty. ‘The general history of dance has been that funny work is somehow not as important,’ she argues, ‘and if you have anything serious to say then it’s got to be full of angst. I went to a dance video festival last weekend and watched stacks and stacks of work, all of which took itself very seriously. There were two pieces in the entire thing that had wit in them - one Merce Cunningham piece and one Pina Bausch piece. It became patently obvious to me that anyone who has got anything worth saying uses wit to distance themselves from the situation they’re looking at. Once you take human existence so seriously that you’re going to destroy your dancers with

‘It everybody is dressed the same way, whether it’s all in suits or all in dresses, no matter who they are, it changes a lot

of what you see and how you see it.’

the awful things you’re asking of them, I think I’m lost immediately.’

If Anderson ever destroyed her dancers, it’d be for the sake of a laugh. In Precious, premiering at Glasgow’s Tramway and bringing together both the all-male Featherstonehaughs and the all-female Cholmondeleys, there’s one passage that amuses Anderson so much that she’s been rehearsing it far more than necessary, and far more than the dancers appreciate, just because she enjoys watching it over and over again. ‘With the Featherstonehaughs,’ she recalls, ‘it was interesting initially to make dance out of things that didn’t look like the components of dance and to shape the steps that you wouldn’t blink an eye if you saw in context stepping and hopping and jumping and looking and stringing them together in a phrase in a musical or choreographic way. That still interests me a lot and there‘s certainly some of that in this. But we’re also doing some more dancey dance. The Featherstonehaughs go a bit wafty - lyrical, I think the right word is which I did quite seriously, but they look so funny doing it, itjust altered itself before my eyes.’

The Featherstonehaughs, it must be said, do not look like your conventional dance troupe. It’s not just that their previous occupations range from hairdresser to tree surgeon’s groundsman, it‘s also that they are an undancerly looking bunch whose heights vary from five foot nothing to six foot five. To assemble such a group says something about Anderson’s mischievous sense of humour, but more seriously it enables her to choreograph in ways'that might otherwise be denied to her. By combining the men with the women, as she has done on two previous occasions, she is able to move into areas of sexual identity and gender relationships. ‘In the last joint show, Birthday, I tried to keep both companies very separate on stage,’ she says, ‘making it very clear who’s who, who’s a man and who’s a woman. I kept a very separate style for the Cholmondeleys and the Featherstonehaughs. But in this show I’m playing around with that more. In the sections where both companies are together they are costumed in a unisex way. It’s not obvious immediately the gender of the dancer, except in the single sex sections when the men dress up in suits and the women dress up in long

10 The List 12 —25 March 1993