Tiny Dancers: unique performance Cold Blood gets creative with its hands

This article is from 2018.

Hand in Hand

credit: Julien Lambert

A husband and wife duo bringing both their skills to bear in Cold Blood, a special combination of choreography and film

'Sometimes you have to be careful not to speak about work when you're at home, because life can become boring,' says choreographer Michèle Anne De May with a laugh. But, she points out, there are plenty of other topics for her and her filmmaker husband, Jaco Van Dormael to talk about: 'children, cats, love.'

That last subject finds its way into every corner of their lives, because although Cold Blood – the show De May and Van Dormeal are bringing to this year's Edinburgh International Festival – includes seven 'stupid deaths', it's full of human connection.

'The show is about the last image you see before you die, what you remember just before it happens,' explains De May. 'So there is a lot about smell, about the feel of skin, music and sensibility – life and love. That's why it's such a touching performance.'

Both hailing from Belgium, De May and Van Dormeal were giants in their own fields before merging their talents. De May started her career dancing with Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker (her last visit to Edinburgh was to perform De Keersmaeker's Fase in the 1980s), before moving into choreography and becoming artistic director of Charleroi Danse in Brussels for 12 years. Van Dormeal is an acclaimed director and screenwriter, best known for the multi-award winning feature film, Mr Nobody.

Hand in Hand

credit: Julien Lambert
Then, in 2012, they formed Kiss and Cry Collective with a group of other talented creatives working in the fields of writing, cinematography, design and lighting – and built something entirely new and unique. Casting two human hands in the starring roles, they produced a show where a love affair, with all its associated emotions, is danced purely with digits. A tiny set for the hands / characters to live in was designed, and cameras caught and projected the action onto a big screen.

The result was so popular, the show played 350 performances in nine different languages. And it was while they were touring the world with this first endeavour, that De May and Van Dormeal came up with Cold Blood. Technology had moved on, new possibilities emerged and in 2016 a whole new storyline was born, in which the characters die seven times through a number of vaguely ridiculous scenarios.

'We didn't speak about the narrative for a number of weeks – we were waiting for the story to come to us,' recalls De May. 'We improvised and chatted a lot about catastrophes. But Cold Blood doesn't speak about death, it speaks about life and the sensations of life. It's sort of a joke that we talk about seven stupid deaths, because we're actually talking about life – and what is beautiful in life.'

Having focussed so intently on fingers, hands and arms, did De May find that returning to her usual choreography helped her appreciate what the rest of the body can do?

'No, what changed the most for me was working with other people,' she says. 'It made me more open, and able to see other disciplines differently. It also opened my mind to the possibilities of using a script and how we can work with narrative in dance, to imagine another world – all of that has really helped me as a choreographer.'

Cold Blood, King's Theatre, 4–6 Aug, 8pm (5 Aug, matinee 3pm), £7–£32.

Cold Blood

  • 5 stars

Cold Blood is a remarkable live, feature-length cinema-dance show. It’ll make you smile, laugh, and gasp in amazement. It’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. A drive-in movie, a war-ravaged city, a space station. An old-time, Fred and Ginger-style tap routine. A night at the ballet. All conjured using an…

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