Imagine you’re presented with a luxury assortment of chocolates. Perhaps you linger over a melting fondant moment. Perhaps you just savour the anticipation as your fingers hover over the little piped edgings and miniature decorations. Or perhaps you’re surprised by a droplet of dark liqueur hidden like a secret inside a creamy caramel casing. Now imagine that essentially private experience shared by a group, imagine those chocolates given human form – and you’ll a get flavour of la nuit intime, a performance by Newcastle-based company balletLORENT.
There is, first of all, the assortment idea. The show, designed to be performed in clubs, is a pick-and-mix selection of dance styles, from ballet and contemporary dance to rollerskating, flamenco, couple-dancing, air-guitar, pole-dancing, East European folkery and general nightclub jiggling. The music, played by a DJ in one corner, is just as varied: pop numbers, heavy metal anthems, crooning jazz, moody bedsit blues, off-the-wall indie ballads, experimental electronica – the list goes on.
The show itself is basically a series of short scenes played out in front of, behind and amongst the audience, who are seated around tables, standing against walls, or propped against the bar. The audience can come and go as they please – to the bar, to the loo, or to somewhere else altogether – but on the night I saw it at London’s Spitz club, almost everyone stayed to watch as much as they could. For it’s ultimately the performance and the performers – and, crucially, the gorgeous costumes (by designer Paul Shriek) – that make this piece such a pleasure.
Here are some tasters of what happens. Couples cling to each other in romantic slow-dances. A woman in a sumptuous red gown stands on a podium and shivers, her feet drumming flamenco rhythms against the table while her arms snake about her torso as if echoing the curves of her body. A ballerina walks precariously on all fours, pointe shoes attached to both hands and legs, so that she seems strangely disabled by her fragile beauty. A central metal frame acts as a makeshift trapeze from which a man swings from side to side, his legs floating over the heads of the onlookers; later, a woman hangs from a strap, spinning like a tilting gyroscope around the point of her ballet shoe. Both invoke the simple, profoundly physical pleasures of childhood – of flying and falling, of swing and suspense. Also childlike in its innocence is a little hopscotch game in which two women bunny-hop across the floor, legs and bums flying upward as one man bounces dexterously between them, planting tender kisses along the way. More achingly romantic is another physical game, where the women are repeatedly lifted up, their legs clasped closely against their bodies, their toes reaching skywards – as moving and as simple an expression of yearning and rapture that I have seen.
There’s much more, and a lot of it involves nudity. Two men, lying clasped together on a slowly rotating podium, gradually undress and then redress each other. A man unspools a woman’s cocoon-like dress so that her body emerges like a naked butterfly from a sumptuous giftwrap. One woman, visibly pregnant, spins naked around a pole, or wriggles beneath the wooden legs of a rocking horse. Later she “gives birth” to two naked men who emerge from beneath the extravagant layers of her hooped gown. A bare-breasted woman swings thick ropes of pearls about the face of her enthralled partner.
What’s unusual and captivating about la nuit intime is that its full-on, polymorphous eroticism is not about image and surface, like an ‘adult’ show. Rather, it is always connected to fantasy and feeling, to free-floating imagination and buried human emotion – and that makes its sensuality both more adult and more childlike; in short, more human.
“I’m interested in how much and what kind of emotion I can make people feel,” says director Liv Lorent. In la nuit intime she achieves that not through symbolism, but through physical sensation – reminding us that the word ‘feeling’ translates both emotion and sensation. And it has real effects on its audience. Lorent loves the way that the performance make people “start to soften, to touch each other more”. It’s true: there were looks of wonder, gentle laughter, shared intimacy, even some back-row canoodling. Everyone began to feel a little chocolately. We all melted a little.