Ups And Downs And Whoopsie Daisies

A dance duet between an able bodied man and a significantly disabled woman could easily become a novelty act - and one that some will feel obliged to praise out of sympathy and others will guiltily shirk away from.There is no need for patronising 'didn't they do well considering?' platitudes when considering Robbie Synge and Julie Cleves' Ups and Downs and Whoopsie Daisies, though. Both endearing and unsettling, the piece celebrates Cleves' disability by taking full advantage of the unique movement possibilities that her and Synge's contrasting physical states offer. It's certainly not perfect, but it is never less than fascinating, and it holds its own against the fully able-bodied companies elsewhere on the bill.The audience arrives to see Cleves hesitantly reciting a childish poem while a smartly dressed Synge carries out what seem to be domestic tasks with mechanical efficiency. A superbly-judged ambient soundtrack kicks in, and the pair begin to interact - clashing at times along the way, but gradually working more in harmony until the show concludes as it began, leaving the audience uncertain whether to leave or sit tight for a repeat performance.An endearing humour pervades the piece and the company has no qualms about using Cleves' disability for comic effect, such as the moments when Synge is trapped beneath her or bumps the disgruntled Cleves around the stage area like an inconvenient obstacle. The mood varies considerably, though, and the segment where Synge attacks Cleves, whose pained noises seem uncomfortably realistic, makes for troubling viewing. These changes in emotional atmosphere - from sombre dance sequences through comedy, violence and even a cheesy rock interlude - are frequently jarring and could have been achieved with more subtlety and smoothness.In his solo segments, Synge is good rather than outstanding, but inevitably how Cleves uses her body is a source of greater interest anyway, and it is the duo's choreographic concepts and solutions that are the main attraction.One of Ups and Downs' highlights is the extraordinarily versatile use of a mechanical hoist contraption, which sometimes functions as a set or backdrop, and sometimes becomes a third performer for the duo to interact with. The machine, which Synge subtly dismantles and assembles into a variety of states, or programmes to allow it to move independently, complements its human co-stars rather than distracting attention from them, and fully merits its own bow at the end.Ultimately, the intrigue factor is this show's main selling point: you want to see if/how these two contrasting figures will pull off a half-hour dance duet. But you leave both with your curiosity satisfied, and having been entertained and impressed.

Reviews by Sue Denham

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The Blurb

A charming yet physically risky duet in an intimate space. Very different bodies unite to create a distinctive visual style. In reality or fantasy, disability or not, life is absurd but it goes on.

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