James Cousins Company’s Rosalind is a reimagining of one of Shakespeare’s most popular heroines – Rosalind from As You Like It. Clever, funny and courageous, Rosalind makes a bid for freedom into the Forest of Arden, disguised as a man for her own protection. Choreographer James Cousins – recipient of the inaugural New Adventures Choreographer Award in 2011 – transports this Shakespearean story of concealed identity to a modern, bustling city and examines what it means to be either male or female in the 21st century.
The overarching narrative of Rosalind is conveyed by poetry, written by Sabrina Mahfouz and spoken by Jasmine Blackborow. Simple, evocative – Shakespearean in rhythm yet modern in language – the poetry is the launchpad for a flurry of movement. Images conveyed by the words become dance, and then evolve to suggest a completely new meaning.
Exquisite lighting design by Lee Curran supports the transient, fluid relationship of spoken word and dance. Warm, glowing side lights contrast with stark, central cubic lit with fluorescent tubes, creating two very distinct environments in which the action unfolds.
Initially, Cousins’ choreography imagines male and female as two separate entities. The female – dressed in a flesh coloured corset – conveys emotion and romance with soft caresses and lyrical gesture, and shows her insecurity by tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. The male appears confined with regimented, repetitive gestures, performed in unison by the entire company like workers on an assembly line.
As these two styles of choreography collide, Rosalind prompts interesting questions about gender stereotyping and the interpretation of gender we chose to perform to the world. In a stunning duet, Chihiro Kawaski lifts George Hann; she appears a women dragged down by the weight of her relationship, despite her affirmation that she is “lucky to be in love.”
Costume changes aid the fluidity of gender roles; dancers shrugging off their masculinity with a suit jacket. Cousins’ offers the audience a fresh perspective by repeating the same choreography and situation with first a female, then a male dancer, challenging our own preconceptions about the meaning behind each and every movement.
A climactic finale involves all four dancers, dressed in frock coats, blending athleticism, exuberant gesture, acrobatics and a bold, devil-may-care attitude. The pace is fast, dancers breaking out of the action to roll through the central cube before re-joining in the group in this relentless celebration of power, strength and beauty.
James Cousins Company’s Rosalind is a rare specimen; an example of contemporary dance which is intelligent and thought-provoking, yet still elegant and stylish. The company give a stellar performance in a piece which demands the utmost discipline and extreme physical skill. One of the most inspiring, beautiful pieces of contemporary dance I have seen for a long time.