If you think that eating a fine dining meal with a woman’s backside firmly planted a few inches from your face is an awkward experience, well, yes it is.
An Evening of Meat, currently on at Waterloo’s alternative performance space the Vaults, is exactly what the title suggests, an evening where meat (in the edible form) and flesh (in the form of dancers’ bodies) cross paths and overlap over the course of a couple of hours in what is defined as Ã¢â‚¬Å“inspiring creative liberation through nonpareil performance, clandestine encounters, and cosmopolitan cuisine.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The unique and provocative dinner installation is also advertised as Ã¢â‚¬Å“a feast of femininity, where expressive dance and indulgent food meet to thoroughly inundate all the senses.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Having gained a cult following across the world, American director Kate March, along with her all-female creative collective I AM, display their unique mixture of choreography, performance art and food in London for this limited run.
Featuring a fine-dining six course dinner and dancers using a table as a stage, An Evening Of Meat is a conceptual dining experience that explores the all-fours position (the dancers spend the majority of the time on their knees).
The guests are confronted with performers which seem to be struggling to reach the vertical. In the intention of the director, the audience and performer should build a unique relationship and, as the diner becomes part of the dancer’s struggle, his or her gaze is destabilised as the dancer becomes more than just a piece of meat on the table.
Intrigued by the above and by what is also advertised as a’feminist collective’ we went along to the Vaults to see what it is about.
The space itself is not new to immersive and alternative productions, and having seen some pretty exciting stuff in the past (from immersive, multilevel play Alice’s Adventures in Underground to Dinner with the Twits), we had high expectations.
The first room is set up as a bar, and maintains the street art, grunge feel one brings inside from the Leake Street tunnels (an official graffiti area). Low lights and smoke fill the slightly damp air of the railway arches; here we sipped a drink ahead of the performance, surrounded by interesting statues of dancers made out of wrought metal.
After a while we were called in groups and invited to take our seats at the long, communal style tables upstairs (3 in total). As we did so, we carefully avoided touching the lying down bodies of the dancers, who appeared to be’asleep’ on the tables.
As we we served the first course of the night (a small and delicious cone with chicken liver mousse and walnut crumb) another dancer started’waking up’ the sleeping bodies, one by one.
At this point we started discussing the performance that had just begun in front of us. The association between the meat in the food and the female dancers was obvious and agreed upon but not much else.
A dish of salt baked potato, beurre noisette and crisp pancetta was served next, another surprisingly good dish of balanced, contrasting flavours.
The dancers continued writhing in front of our eyes, moving ever so slowly at first.
By the arrival of the next course (a delicate carpaccio of dry-aged beef with kohlrabi, haricot verts, puffed rice and a thai dressing), the moves were getting quite fast and we had to start watching our cutlery and our glasses.
As the dancers kept swapping places from one table to the next, they also begun interacting, albeit minimally, with some of the diners: staring into our eyes, smirking sensually, picking up a bottle of wine and similar innocent but a little unnerving (if you are the diner) gestures.
We stared back, we smiled back, but we also welcomed the moments when we were not the target of any of the dancers’ attention, so that we could actually also enjoy a little bit of conversation and the food, which was worth the consideration it deserved.
The main course of braised mutton shoulder, peas and spearmint, fermented black garlic mustard, dehydrated feta, pea shots and charred wild garlic was the highlight of the meal yet the following and final savoury course was just as succulent (rare breed pig cheek oyster with lentils, a gently spiced red dahl and citrus gremolata).
The dancing kept going, but fast and furious by now: the performers pounded the tables with their hands, screamed in unison at each other and in line with the music: occasionally a glass would crash on the floor or a fork would drop on the benches, everything vibrating in energy; the fit, strong bodies of the ladies in front of us, while we consumed our meal.
The dessert arrived, a mouthwatering chocolate and olive oil ganache, sesame ash, coconut bacon flakes and vanilla smoked salt served in a glass ashtray, beautiful looking and interesting tasting end to the meal.
As Depeche Mode were singing their personal Jesus in the background, I felt like getting up on the table, throwing my hands in the air and singing along.
The finale was powerful, loud and went down with a bang (or it might have been the inebriated gentleman next to us tripping on the wooden bench).
The dancers disappeared after the enthusiastic applause and we were left wondering about the experience. It does get people talking, that is for sure.
I am in two minds. The food was excellent and well executed, but I longed for some moments of quiet conviviality to enjoy it as it should have been enjoyed. I love anything immersive, but here there was no storyline to follow, no characterisation, and no pauses to catch a breath.
We did not find it’feminist’ as such, indeed we pictured the first,’awake’ dancer as the owner of a brothel, and the other girls her prostitutes, which doesn’t quite feel like a woman’s empowerment.
The clothes they were wearing seemed to invoke sexyness and sensuality but their fishnet stockings were ripped, threaded; their make up was heavy and dark, their moves invoked pain in our minds (how many times can you slam your hands on a hard surface?).
It is likely that I did not’get it’; I was left a little confused. The food is perhaps worthy of a better consumption, as it feels a little rushed, and overlooked when you’ve got a wriggling body in front of you; the soundtrack is ace, and has anything from Depeche Mode to Bjiork.
Overall, we had fun, we had a laugh and we were confronted with something different and out of the ordinary, in a memorable setting.
It is certainly a unique night out, but might not be for everyone.
If you feel up for something unusual, treat yourself to An Evening of Meat: it’s on until 2 June, tickets from £35 per person.