“Don’t Mickey Mouse!” It’s one of the most basic rules given to beginner choreography students, an injunction against the kids’ cartoon effect produced by movement that parrots its music – and Rosie Kay is breaking it, big-time. Her Fantasia, like Disney’s, is a kind of musical adventure set to a playlist of classical music, but using plotless dance instead of animated stories; and like Disney, Kay is going the full Mickey Mouse.
In the opening section, featuring much Vivaldi, the choreographic logic seems to be: if the music is classical, the dance must be, too. Shanelle Clemenson, Harriet Ellis and Carina Howard – more Amazonian in style and stance than the willowy balletic ideal, and each sporting the kind of gaudy tutu a five-year-old might choose for fancy dress – duly don the airs and graces of classical ballet: its elegant framings and facings, its harmonies between curved arm and stretched leg. They do that high-stepping walkaround from down to upstage that you often see in ballets, then swish down the diagonal, all lyrical and smiley. Are they taking the piss? Are they just swanning around, more for their own sake than ours? For a little while it does seem like lampooning – and not just directed at ballet, either. Plinky, atonal piano music engenders modernist, insectoid contortions; later, Romantic orchestrations induce Isadora Duncan abandon, hair-tossing flings and moon-eyed swoons. And every step or gesture remains timed to the musical rhythm and moulded to the musical phrase.
Yet the dancers hold their nerve, and soon enough you let down your guard. This is about pleasure, not parody.
Like gleeful kids, these women are simultaneously playing at dancing and doing it, having fun by making fun. When they emote, it’s with a childlike directness: they don’t hold back, nor smooth over the jumps between one mood and the next. At the same time, they’re all highly trained adults: the dancers are strong technicians and full-on performers, and Kay keeps a tight grip on the choreographic craft. It’s a winning combination, cartoonishly full of skill, verve and vitality, and tickling your senses of both humour and wonder.