This is a curate’s egg of a show. Amusing, brilliant, at times too slow and self-indulgent and at others, riveting, Dollhouse is performance art and avant garde music which is usually seen presented more often in an art school student event rather than a dance centre. It is certainly a different take on tap dance. Pushing the boundaries of an audience’s tolerance, it also fascinates with its experimental range of movement and acoustic effects in a series of endurance tests mounting to biblical proportions which ultimately evoke a frightening world which is falling apart.

Absurd as this show is, it redeems itself with its darkness, reminiscent of one of Bill’s other influences, Antonin Artaud.

Bill Coleman, inspired by Buster Keaton, has the same blank expression as the world turns against him. At the start he stands in front of the audience, staring at us, for a very long time, and I feel that this does not bode well for the show but eventually he contorts and writhes emitting strange cracking, tap-dance like sounds – created not by metal-shod shoes but seemingly by the body. How this is achieved soon becomes apparent but no spoilers here.

There are no recordings in this show. All the acoustic effects, designed by Gordon Monahan, are achieved by contact with objects on stage and it is littered with clutter; some electronic, some mechanical Heathcotian inventions, tall metal stands festooned with flowers or straw and sprouting whirring blades, tables piled with computers and equipment, a large metal ‘thunder’ sheet hanging from the back wall and much more.

As Bill encounters these objects, there are hilarious moments, particularly with mouse-traps and sticky-backed lino but the show proceeds with stop-start momentum. At one point, Gordon wanders on stage and sticks electrodes onto Bill which create a range of sound effects by monitoring his muscle movements. Fascinating as this is technically, one feels the geek interest has made the pair forget the need for dramatic relevance.

But the show takes on a deeper resonance; as the objects appear to attack, Bill’s solution is to divest himself of his clothes until he is down to his underpants, perhaps suggesting humanity trying to escape entrapment, the title surely a nod to Ibsen’s A Doll House. The sound effects begin to suggest his bewildered interior world and there are some arresting images such as the suit studded with white feathered arrows designed by Edward Poitras, possibly a reference to Saint Sebastian’s martyrdom. A deafening climax of cymbals, drums and the thunder sheet, plus blinding lights as Bill is drenched in water is a powerful ending. Absurd as this show is, it redeems itself with its darkness, reminiscent of one of Bill’s other influences, Antonin Artaud.

Reviews by Stephanie Green

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The Blurb

Contemporary dance master and choreographer Bill Coleman portrays a figure whose whole world is literally falling in around him. Sharing the stage with avant-garde composer Gordon Monahan, an object-laden room collapses and breaks at the dancers every touch. Playing the role of a modern fakir, Coleman suffers through what at times are almost comic situations on his way to sonic and visual pandemonium. Am eye-popping spectacle with a unique score, Dollhouse encompasses tap dancing and performance art while mechanical and electronic objects, both handmade and found, deliver disrupting and surprising rhythms for the ears and eyes.