Ten dance shows about sport

Pierre Rigal, 'Game Over' Pierre Rigal, 'Game Over' - © Pierre Grosbois
Posted: Fri May 18 2012

As two dance shows about boxing and football come to London, Time Out digs out some earlier examples of sport-inspired dance

Thought you'd avoid Olympic hype by going to the theatre? Ha! No chance. Sporty shows are everywhere this year, and this week the Southbank Centre hosts two dance pieces on a sporting theme: Pierre Rigal's 'Game Over', recalling the 1982 World Cup semi-final between France and West Germany, and then Emio Greco's 'Rocco', which sees the choreographer turning the Queen Elizabeth Hall into a boxing ring. But these aren't the first choreographers to take inspiration from sport. In fact, there's quite a roll call…

'The Golden Age' (1930)
A ballet score written by Shostakovich about a Soviet football team coming to Western Europe - the original version was notable for its offensive national stereotypes. The Mariinsky brought a new version to London in 2006 by choreographer Noah Gelber, but the result was about as thrilling as watching a nil-nil draw in the rain.

Robert Cohan, 'Waterless Method of Swimming Instruction' (1974)
Created for London Contemporary Dance Theatre and set in a dry swimming pool, this was ocean-liner glamour meets synchronised not-quite-swimming. Dreamily beautiful in parts, like seaside slapstick in others. (Skip forward to 24.39 in the video linked above for a taster.)

Mark Morris, 'Championship Wrestling' (1984)
Part of a triptych of works by American choreographer Morris based on Roland Barthes 'Mythologies'. This one takes Barthes's writing on the cultural significance and signifiers of wrestling as its muse. The first version of this piece actually premiered at London's Dance Umbrella festival under the title 'Slugfest'. Clement Crisp in the Financial Times described it as the dancers 'socking it to each other according to certain abstruse rules'.

Deborah Colker, 'Maracanã' (2006)
Brazilian choreographer Deborah Colker was a professional volleyball player before she moved into dance and it shows in her high-risk athletic choreography. To tie in with the 2006 football World Cup, she created 'Maracanã', named after Rio's massive 80,000-seater stadium. So popular is Colker in Brazil that she can play to stadium-sized audiences too.

Ballets Russes, 'Jeux' (1913)
Set to a score by Debussy, 'Jeux' was recently re-imagined by Wayne Eagling for English National Ballet, but the original was choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky for the Ballets Russes. The set-up is a game of tennis between one man and two women (Nijinsky obviously wasn't too clear on the rules), but the game-playing here is of the romantic kind and the original choreography ended with a triple kiss between the players. Scandalous!

Eddie Ladd, 'The Bobby Sands Memorial Race' (2010)
A contemporary dance theatre piece about the life of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands and his teenage passion for long-distance running. That might seem like an unlikely sentence, but that's what it was. Welsh performer Eddie Ladd ran on a 12ft treadmill on stage to create an apt sense of bleak endurance.

Darshan Singh Bhuller, 'Heart of Chaos' (1994)
There was bobbing, weaving and a mean right hook in Bhuller's boxing-inspired piece for Phoenix Dance Theatre. There was also some ballroom dancing, which incidentally has actually applied to be included as a sport in the Olympic Games. No sign of it in London 2012, though.

And coming soon...
Joseph Mercier, 'Take it Like a Man'
More wrestling! This one's only in development but choreographer Joseph Mercier and wrestler-turned-live artist Jamie Lewis Hadley recently showcased the beginnings of a new show investigating the performance of pain - both the real and fake kinds. Razorblades and staple guns featured. You have been warned.