Like a child taken out of play clothes and dressed in Sunday best, Belgian choreographer Cassiel Gaube has given house dance a makeover. Born in 1980s Chicago, the style is seeped in the sweat-soaked beats of underground nightclubs – but not here. In white t-shirts, jeans and trainers, Gaube and dancers operate at ‘the intersection of contemporary dance and Hip Hop’.
The result is a series of fleet-footed vignettes that absolutely capture the genre’s component parts. Clicking heels and toe taps give duets a ‘Fred & Ginger’ tap dance vibe; circling (but never touching) each other we feel the echo of capoeira; while the snaking hips of salsa and pin drops of hip hop complete the ingredients.
But music is such an integral part of house dance, that watching it performed without it (the dancers wear earbuds) feels a little like receiving an invite to a party – then not being allowed in.
House dance is a party. Can it still be one when you break down each move and categorise it as you would library books? When there’s no music? When the strobe-lit, crowded club is replaced by a white stage with three dancers in crisp t-shirts and jeans? What you end up with is not a party but still makes for a compelling piece.
Cassiel Gaube’s Soirée d’études has us quickly trying to map out the rules of the choreographic game he has concocted for his dancers. During 40 minutes, the performers take turns at nimbly dancing with and around each other as if playing a Cotton-eyed Joe of fancy footwork. In this (almost always) silent disco, they are connected only by the sound blasting discreetly through the AirPods in their ears.
As its name implies, Soirée d’études is an exercise. Though fun to watch, I was left craving more complicity between the dancers and mostly, a lot more groove.
Riffing on the possibilities of house dance, Cassiel Gaube’s Soirée d’études feels anything but academic. Bringing the energy of the rehearsal room to the performance, three dancers – the choreographer among them – throw shapes and create them at the same time.
Waithera Schreck begins in silence, drawing circles within circles, all swinging arms and languid turns as she grooves around an unseen centre of gravity. The others fall in and follow her lead before things get competitive – percussive feet slapping out complex rhythms that tap into the style’s ethnic roots. Beats and bodies syncopate with the dancers falling out of phase, first creating a movement canon then a counterpoint that becomes almost fugal.
The music eventually arrives, along with the fancy footwork and showy fun that are the hallmark of house, and the evening ends with a salsa-inspired solo from Alesya Dobysh that feels fittingly free.
Three performers stand by in white T-shirts, sneakers, and jeans; minute shrugs and finger taps, virtually going unnoticed, reveal a beat only they can hear through earbuds.
From solo passages to collective choreographies, Soirée d’études prowls through the wide vocabulary of house dance. Steady leaps, circular arm movements, twisting torsos, and a lot of foot pivoting often end in floor pats producing the only audible sound. Dancers copycat each other’s movements and appear to learn by doing so, adding new elements each time.
Their preoccupation with each other might have grown tiresome but their focal point shifts progressively outwards, towards us. After a welcome breather in dimmed lighting, with the trio lying motionless on the floor, Gaube rises and discretely removes his earbud. Now, with the soundtrack electrifying the whole room, their explorations converge in a resonating joint display.