Pulp: Stylish, Slick and a Bit of Fun

Pulp by Underground Dance Theatre.
Thalia Laric in Pulp by Underground Dance Theatre.

The founders of Underground Dance Theatre, Steven van Wyk, Thalia Laric, Cilna Katzke, bring us Pulp, a film noir influenced dance-theatre piece. With some pizzazz the group seem to have a good bit of fun, a change from them usually being behind the choreographic scenes. After a few years covering a company’s work one expects a particular product. I anticipated a completely abstracted style that throws one into the abyss of conceptual confusion with the challenge of engaging with the work, which I always enjoy.

Watching Pulp, I admit thinking at first, what is this? Are they pandering? Surely not. And as we meet the apple-pie baking wife, I knew they weren’t.

The Californian set detective story centres around a red suitcase, causing trouble between two sisters, Velda and Patty, and Patty’s husband Dave, and a PI Joe. It’s highly stylised with caricatures that seem to present stereotypes of the dame, the broad, the hero, the stag. So, yes, we’re given a clear narrative – unusual for Underground Dance Theatre – but in turn, this upholds their self-given challenge to embrace various genres, particularly those which might challenge their comfort zones.

There are a couple of theatrical issues. I wasn’t entirely sold on the performers ‘depicting’ the storytelling – at times it resulted in too safe a play, even though we had a satisfying laugh every now and then. It’s part of the fun at first but becomes predictable in rhythm as the overhead audio somewhat dominates the physicalised stage work. We’re a little trapped into ‘seeing what they can do’ as the story unfolds.

Nonetheless, Pulp is slick and stylish, fun and sexy. As always seen in Underground Dance Theatre’s oeuvre, the performers maintain a crisp strength, and dance with effortless precision.

Here though, arises a tiny issue… when dancing comes so easy to people such as the greatly talented Underground dancers, it appears so effortless to an audience… what can result is that that ease of performance can be misinterpreted for a lack of effort. And at some points in Pulp, this seems to happen, not always, but it’s a point for consideration. There was an uneven balance between the work’s style and the energy required for sustaining the type of work it is…

Back to the apple-pie baking Patty (Katzke). The text gives us clues in the sardonic telling of the housewife’s life: she has the “perfect husband” yet she knows “not to ask Dave… too many questions”, even though she has an accountancy diploma for “those darned household finances”, rather challenging for a woman, don’t forget. Yet she makes fluffy crust for apple pie even though she doesn’t like it, nor does she enjoy apple pie for that matter, but she does these things to be a good housewife. Why? The growing frazzle in Patty’s solos shows us the struggle to maintain stasis within the heteronormative life she knows, only.

Likewise, we hear the sultry Velda (Laric) called Jezebel – we know the narrator is purposefully pointing out the stereotype, but we can’t help imagining that this character suffers this label, an affirmation of her self-enduring cycle of insecurity and use of sensuality. We see this in the repeated solos, which become increasingly lacklustre and vulnerable as she can’t maintain the expectation of performativity. Use and abuse has taken its toll.

I quite like that Underground Dance Theatre is doing something different to what we’re used to expecting from them. It shows their openness to test themselves, test what their audiences want, and shows their commitment to being underground – being experimental and challenging not only themselves but stylistically and thematically challenging their audiences too.

– Sarah Roberson

Pulp is next on Saturday 02 July at 10am at PJ’s. For more info and bookings click here.  

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