The Dancehouse, Manchester
11 July 2019 – 14 July 2019; 45min
For some of us, a chant of ‘Maggie, Maggie, Maggie …’ is always followed by an irresistible urge to shout ‘Out, Out, Out!’
This is not that. Trajal Harrell’s one-third dance work for the Manchester International Festival (the remaining two-thirds being promised elsewhere) is, on the obvious level, a burst of cheerful, playful, inventive celebration by his 10-strong troupe. They’re having a ball, in every sense.
Maggie the Cat – as in Tennessee Williams’ upwardly mobile female in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – doesn’t really come into it, except as a rhythmic phrase. But ‘catwalk’ does.
The programme notes suggest the opening sequence, with cushions, blankets, towels and so on, represents the idea of the servants in Williams’ old South family home – usually nothing more than background props themselves – seeking to emulate their masters’ lifestyles. When the cat’s away...
Hence the cat-like tread – barefoot, on toes, fashion-catwalk hip-wiggling and all the rest of it – that becomes a celebration of voguing, cross-dressing and gender fluidity. It would be nothing without dressing up, and Harrell himself explains at the start that he’s dressed as Big Mama (the old lady from the play) while his partner in MC-ing, Perle Palombe, is Big Daddy (the old guy).
As tempos change, so does movement: sultry styles, polonaise-style prancing, shaking it all about and generally having a good time. After Harrell brought some reference to British Airways into his vocals (I couldn’t hear many of the words), things seemed to run out of steam for a while. Then came the ‘browning’ of the dancers’ feet – also symbolic, if you read the passnotes – and things seemed to be more improvisatory from then on.
If there was a story, it was about sharing the original Maggie’s persona, but maybe the sense of ball culture was what they really wanted to share.
Technically very professional, good to watch, they’re undoubtedly lovely people, and even gathered to thank us for coming as we left the theatre. What’s not to like?