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Womanpower

Together self-declared “dance artists” Eleanor Sikorski and Flora Wellesley Wesley are Nora, a spirited double act with a deliciously irreverent feminist streak. The pair studied together at London Contemporary Dance School and recently premiered their first evening-length programme, a triple bill of duets they conceived in conjunction with four guest choreographers: Jonathan Burrows, Matteo Fargion, Simon Tanguy and Liz Aggiss.

Performance

Nora performs “Eleanor and Flora Music,” “Digging” & “Bloody Nora!”

Place

Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler's Wells, London, UK, November 26 & 27, 2015

Words

Sara Veale

Nora performing “Bloody Nora.” Photograph by Camilla Greenwell

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As the sole performers of the night, Sikorski and Wellesley Wesley did an admirable job (wo)manning stage for two hours, offering up a bevy of energy and wit between them, plus a strong display of chemistry and mutual respect. It was this artistic harmony that kept the show afloat during its shaky first half and elevated it during its radiant second one, when the dancers’ madcap brand of humour and brassy political commentary came to the fore.

About that first half, which took the form of a 40-minute physical translation of composer Morton Feldman’s For John Cage: conceptually speaking, I found the piece—directed by Burrows and Fargion, who in 2002 created their own interpretation of the score—a worthy experiment in form, and an interesting comment on the perception of choreography and composition as formulas easily deciphered and reassembled rather than chronicles crafted just so. However, performance-wise the work felt lifeless and aloof, a far cry from Burrows’ and Fargion’s playful version (not to mention the vigorous music itself, which, to be clear, does not accompany the piece). Sluggish movements combined to make sluggish phrases that revealed disappointingly little about the dancers’ technical capabilities or personal style.

By contrast, the second two pieces were forthcoming and personal, the dancers’ individual strengths emerging clearly. “Digging” saw them converse via headset in a droll exchange that spanned topics as wide-ranging as the Bechdel test and the universal fear of death, and culminated in a comical rant about the importance of being yourself. As the dialogue flowed, so did the choreography, a slow-moving churn of organic shapes and interlocking limbs. Tanguy made excellent use of Wellesley Wesley’s strong lines and versatile voice, while Sikorski’s beautiful posture and brilliant comedic timing were given ample room to breathe.

Such qualities were likewise coaxed out in “Bloody Nora!” a riotous finale choreographed by ‘the grand dame of anarchic dance’ herself, Liz Aggiss. Hyped through a crackling voiceover as “a story of hormonal imbalance,” the piece is, among other things, a smart and searing send-up of the infuriating ‘Is it that time of the month?’ question so often levied at women who dare express an impassioned opinion. Clad in aviator caps and red ruffles, the two dancers romped and pranced their way through a series of dance theatre sketches mocking pearl-clutching reactions to perceived female transgressions. There was a reeling-off of euphemisms for menstruation (biggest hits include ‘Shark Week’ and ‘riding the cotton pony’); a can-can in which they chide their mothers for letting their daughters on stage; a hornpipe-accompanied procession of expletives.

In the post-show Q&A, Sikorski called “Bloody Nora!” a “natural fit” for her and Wellesley Wesley, likening it to “a piece of rep that’s only just been made.” Here’s hoping the sharp work will stick around in Nora’s arsenal for shows to come.

Sara Veale


Sara Veale is a London-based writer and editor. She's written about dance for the Observer, the Spectator, DanceTabs, Auditorium Magazine, Exeunt and more. Her first book, Untamed: The Radical Women of Modern Dance, will be published in 2024.

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