Male choreographers seem currently to be looking to Virginia Woolf for story lines; later this year Wayne McGregor will be presenting his full length Woolf Works for the Royal Ballet, but right now at a much smaller scale Lost Dog is touring Like Rabbits, a collaboration between choreographer Ben Duke and playwright Lucy Kirkwood based on Woolf’s delicate and dark short story Lappin and Lapinova. This fifty minute two hander performed by Duke and Ino Riga updates Woolf’s story of a relationship in which the fanciful playing out of the roles of King Rabbit and his queen by a newlywed couple gradually give way to a darker reality in their marriage.

Lost Dog’s version suggests a more modern, urban and overtly sexual relationship beginning with a pick-up in a club. The piece opens with the enigmatic Riga sitting rolling a cigarette, while Duke dances and postures in desperate but ultimately successful attempts to gain her attention. She leads him away, shedding her prim white jacket and flat shoes, and dances a powerfully physical solo before removing her strange white dress to reveal her body in flesh coloured mesh with hairy rabbit thighs; she invites the watching Duke to shed his conventional garb and don a similar costume. Their ensuing duet combines fluid tumbling and entwining with humping and rabbit-like bounces and nuzzling; she names him King Lappin and a rabbit world of night time woodlands is conjured up. From this high point of fantasy the relationship begins to falter as domesticity gradually encroaches; first Riga neatly hanging up their excitedly discarded clothes, later Duke in a monologue of banalities, a shopping list, household chores, arrangements. While Lappin gradually returns to normal, Lapinova hangs onto her rabbit persona; in a telling moment they sit tightly together apparently in a family party with Lappin, his smile fixed, restraining the emerging floppy paws of his increasingly sad partner. A reiteration of their duet has poignantly changed as Lappin loses interest in their previously shared playfulness and then removes his rabbit costume. The piece ends abruptly with him nonchalantly cleaning his teeth.

This is dance theatre in which the action moves smoothly and economically between dancing, naturalistic action and talking. The story is told on a stage empty apart from two boxes for sitting on, a microphone on a stand and dangling cords from which to hang clothes; the costumes thus central in their crucial visual indication of the strange world the protagonists enter.  Sound is a filmic collage of opportune tracks providing atmospheric background rather than musical structure or dialogue of ideas. Riga’s athletic androgynous presence and proactive sexuality seem a long way from the fragile and wary Rosalind of Woolf’s story, although gradually a softer wide-eyed startled quality emerged. Duke’s sheepishly grinning eagerness similarly morphed into eventual boredom and disengagement. The title Like Rabbits with its implication of promiscuity, and the urgency of the protagonists’ physical encounter made this piece very much a contemporary story of an impulsive relationship going off the boil. It underplayed the wider disturbing social symbolism of Woolf’s story, in which rabbits are also the hunted, and Rosalind as isolated woman is ultimately trapped in her marriage.

My companion for the evening heartily disliked the piece, finding the smoking unnecessary, the “Fuck me” song which accompanied Riga’s solo offensively crude, and the contemporary movement idiom and characters self involved and alienating. To its credit that it provoked much discussion after, and reading of Woolf’s story.  I admired the narrative clarity wrought with simplicity of means; but could not help feeling that this masculinized retelling lost something of Woolf’s sinister vision, its woman’s perspective, and its chilling conclusion.

Following Like Rabbits Ben Duke shared a short “trailer” for his next work based on Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. With a surface of charming self-deprecation this was a knowing comic sketch about a work in progress aimed at garnering support. Intriguing to speculate how his flippant approach to a titanic work may translate from cheeky stand-up to choreographed dance theatre.

Susie Crow

25th January 2015

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