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Cowpuncher review at Southbank Centre – ‘inspired Wild West re-imagining’

Scene from Cowpuncher at Southbank Centre, London. Photo: Pete Woodhead

Cowpuncher is a collaborative project with pulling power. In addition to costumes by Vivienne Westwood’s partner Andreas Kronthaler, it’s scored by celebrated young composer Mica Levi, Oscar-nominated for her work on 2016’s Jackie. Choreographer Holly Blakey, meanwhile, is best known for her commercial work, including videos for Florence and the Machine and Gucci.

Part of the programme for the newly refurbished Queen Elizabeth Hall’s opening week, Cowpuncher is saddled with expectation and often struggles under the weight, though at times it sprints into life. Playing with the tropes of Western movies, it opens in a broad style, legible for those of us more familiar with Oklahoma! than the John Wayne oeuvre: a pack of female dancers slowly develop a loose-hipped, lassoing motion against a scorched orange backdrop.

Kronthaler’s costumes – bodices and skirts askew – are like Les Mis meets the prairie. He ups the cowboy-camp factor with the arrival of two prowling buckaroos – one sports bulging blue satin instead of denim, the other just a black neckerchief and some pants draped in a spangly loincloth.

Levi’s score avoids obvious hoe-downs – it’s a powerful and modish mixture of agitated strings, mammoth bass and screaming saxophone, to which the dancers sometimes respond with an enjoyably insouciant swoop and swagger.

There are brutal couplings, neat canterings, scenes of eroticism and obstetrical urgency between women. Unfortunately, this rich and imaginative seam of physicality isn’t fully developed, and the dance is hampered by longueurs – an extended toothache sequence, some suggestive arse waggling – that remain superficial and underwhelming.

Verdict
Sometimes inspired re-imagining of Wild West gender norms featuring Vivienne Westwood costumes

Production

Production
Cowpuncher
Venue
Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre
City
London
Starts
April 13, 2018
Ends
April 13, 2018
Press night
April 13, 2018
Composer
Mica Levi
Choreographer
Holly Blakey
Design
Peppe Lorefice (stylist), Ross Cosgrove (hair)
Lighting
Jenni Pystynen
Costume
Andreas Kronthaler
Technical
Darcy Wallace (assistant choreographer)
Cast includes
Becky Namgauds, Chester Hayes, Eve Stainton, Grace Jabbari, Jonny Vieco, Naomi Weijand, Ted Rogers, Valerie Ebuwa
Producer
Georgina Harper, Ben Totty
Running time
1hr