‘Who’s your cool icon?’ Lewys Holt asks near the beginning of his one man show Of, or at a fairly low temperature (which is I guess a dictionary definition of ‘cool’). Two iconic figures immediately come to mind, Earl ‘Snake-hips’ Tucker, and The Dude in The Big Lewbowski.
Brenda Dixon Gottschild explains what cool is, in dance, by describing Tucker’s jazz solos from the 1920s and 1930s. These combined sinous hips movements and hyperflexible contortions with macho kicks and rippling, jazzy arms – all of his stunning virtuosity completely belied by his neutral facial expression. Cool, she writes, is the paradox between performing amazingly difficult feats while implying that they aren’t anything. No sweat.
The Dude is almost the opposite. His natural state is to appear to do nothing, and seem not to let the chaotic and disastrous things going on around him disturb his equanimity. But again, no sweat.
Lewys manages to be like both of them. He seems to have the lazy, narcissistic self-confidence to tell us that he’s cool and get away with it. In a bit of stand-up near the start he seems to be improvising lazily, almost as if he’s seeing how little he can do and get away with it. Just turning on the tap in a sink in the corner of the anatomy theatre gets a laugh.
[photo: Liam Keown]
Some of the things he does are pretty cool. He opens with a sequence where he plays a tiny toy guitar while his jeans fall down; he kicks them off, straightens them with his toes then somehow manages to wriggle his way back into them. while standing up. The way he stretches and wiggles his legs and hips makes them gradually creep back up to his waist.
[photo: David Wilson Clarke]
When he tells us about his first experiences of contemporary dance, he gets more serious. Talking about dance and masculinity, he wiggles a bit and raises questions about whether these are male. For me it is the confidence that allows him to claim to be cool that makes what he does masculine. And it makes me aware just how much things have changed since I first started writing about dance and masculinity in the 1980s.
[photographer: James Hissett. screenshots from Lewys Holt’s vimeo teaser at https://vimeo.com/user9558174%5D
Which brings me to Brexit. Bexit? This year at the fringe, my response to everything seems to be coloured by Brexit. It seems no accident to me that Bridget Christie, that most political of stand-up comics, had to rewrite her show after the referendum. She knew that the mood at the Fringe would have been changed by it. So why am I bringing this up in relation to Lewys’s show? It doesn’t refer to it – no jokes about having had enough of experts, or about the audience being split 48/52. But I got something from Of, or at a fairly low temperature that suggested to me a way of coping with the very worrying future that’s now facing us. How not to be knocked off centre by the unexpected, how to be cool in the face of risks.
There Lewys is at the end, falling onto the floor because of the way all the clothes he’s just put on are restricting his movements, splayed out and looking poignantly up at us with his shiny blue eyes, and somehow getting away with it. He can cope with it, no sweat.
[Declaration of interest: Lewys was one of my students.]
Brenda Dixon Gottschild’s discussion of Earl ‘Snake-hips’ Tucker is in Digging the Africanist Presence in American Performance: Dance and Other Contexts.