Contemporary dance is an intriguing beast and Strictly it is not! So I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from “fashionable” dance choreographer Holly Blakey’s one night show “Cowpuncher My Ass”, at the Royal Festival Hall. She has made her name creating ugly-sexy moves for music videos including Coldplay, Florence and the Machine and Young Fathers. Described as post-punk, anti-dance, she has also worked on commercial projects for art galleries and fashion houses such as Gucci and Dior. Cowpuncher My Ass is a result of the sell-out success of its previous stagings in the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2018 and 2020. Originally commissioned by the Southbank Centre, 2023’s production of Cowpuncher My Ass has been developed by the creative team to transform the Royal Festival Hall.
The notes on the show suggested a cowboy story, but that was a very loose theme, as without speech- interpretation is down to the viewer. However, the dancers certainly appeared to be riding each other (and often copulating with the ground) in this fast paced, dramatic show which also included synchronised line dancing.
Sometimes you didn’t know where to look, as the cast of Meshach Henry, Chester Hayes, Grace Jabbari, Becky Namgauds, Jonny Vieco, Naomi Weijand and Moses Ward flung themselves across the stage, and slid around in their socks, rolling and tumbling like acrobats. But whichever solo dancer, or duo you chose to focus on was exciting, sensual and dramatic, providing themselves and the viewer a complete gluttony of the senses – which was not necessarily comfortable.
I was completely mesmerised by Chester Hayes’ interpretation of “cowboy” as to me, he stood out more than the rest, with his boxer shorts, shirt and tie. With bold moves, he oozed confidence, plus it was hard to keep my eyes off his muscular legs. Gliding from scenes of begging, ownership and desire to unadulterated pleasure, the atmosphere was intensified by the soundtrack which composer Mica Levi, which fused electronica, jazz and a rather strange segue of cars whooshing by on a highway; coming to a crescendo with the London Contemporary Orchestra, dressed in Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood ball gowns, keeping tune whilst a dancer slithers at their feet and their lead laughs hysterically.
Utilising Westwood’s punk spirit, where her partner Andreas Kronthaler has been a designer for decades, the costumes were open to interpretation; however “My Ass’ got its moment in an early scene where the low slung trousers provided easy access for a bottom-revealing moment for Moses Ward. Above all, the show seemed organic, yet deeply structured and will no doubt provoke discussion, which is what Holly Blakey is renowned for.