The company is called Heels Over Head and on Friday night I fell head over heels in love with their performance, Jacques Brel in Song and Dance. Using a combination of visuals, song, dance and theatre, four multi-talented girls celebrated the works of Belgian chansonnier Jacques Brel and brought early 20th-century continental Europe to the Cumbernauld Theatre in North Lanarkshire.

© Susan Hay
© Susan Hay

Heels Over Head Dance Theatre was established by French-born Agathe Girard in 2011 and aims to create innovative and entertaining works of dance and theatre. Friday night’s performance of various Jacques Brel songs certainly succeeded – the company’s unique interpretations, arranged into a vignette of short scenes, were sure to be a hit as soon as singer Claire Joanne Thompson opened her mouth for the first number, Ne me quitte pas. Accompanied by Jennifer Redmond on a piano which had been designed to resemble a bar, Thompson’s clear soprano was a world apart from the composer’s husky tone, but this was no bad thing. Alongside Girard herself who played a disgruntled waitress dancing with her mop and Lizy Stirrat on the accordion, the ambience of a Parisian café was established immediately: from the French dialogue between Girard and Thompson to the child’s drawing of a teacup projected onto the back screen.

Following the melancholy melody of Ne me quitte pas, in a startlingly upbeat and passionate contrast the trumpet (Stirrat) launched into Les toros. The bullfighter tune was accompanied by a pasodoble starring Thompson, the stubborn customer demanding her bill, and Girard, the waitress determined to close up shop. Quick stamping and the use of an apron as a matador cape spiced up the number, giving it a light-hearted edge.

The sense of fun continued throughout the show, and although it worked well for some of the numbers, such as Girard’s melodramatic portrayal of an overly enthusiastic (verging on creepy) suitor in Les bonbons, for others the comedy could have been played down to greater effect. Au suivant, in particular, was jarringly exaggerated, and the jokey slapstick of reluctant recruits going through a medical examination seemed out of place with lyrics describing a young soldier losing his virginity in a sordid mobile brothel during the Second World War. Au suivant, most commonly translated as “Next”, describes a line of soldiers being called one-by-one to spend a few minutes with the prostitutes before being tossed aside for the following soldier to take his place. It’s difficult to make girls in longjohns not appear comedic and Friday night’s scene could have come straight from the fourth series of Blackadder. But although I felt that the dance misrepresented the lyrics somewhat, Girard’s chilling scream from behind the blackboard during her examination completely redeemed the number.

The best example of humour done right was Girard’s bawdy performance in Les bourgeois. Her exuberant facial expressions and energy worked perfectly for the role of a disillusioned black sheep from a middle-class family. Against a backdrop of a pig in a business suit, Girard imitated stuffy parents, mocked her father for being a failed Casanova and made rude gestures at the audience – attending a French-language cabaret in Cumbernauld was exactly the kind of behaviour that the lyrics of the song were mocking. The entire number was self-deprecating and extremely funny.

The multimedia element of the show was most successful in the Latin classroom song Rosa. It was preceded by a short film on the back screen and displayed the lyrics of the song’s chorus as Thompson took us through our declensions. The inclusion of tap-dancing in what was very much a contemporary dominated show was a welcome addition to the experience. Les prénoms de Paris, which featured a slideshow of children’s drawings of Paris, and Amsterdam, set in the red-light district, also integrated PowerPoint into the routines without being intrusive.
Thompson’s charming singing shone though in all of the numbers she participated in and none more so than La chanson des vieux amants, which was sung over a loudspeaker to create an echo effect. Girard’s dancing also stood out in this gorgeous number; her body strength and control during the slow contortions was astonishing. Le plat pays, on the other hand, was very simple and is noteworthy for being the only piece of English dialogue. Thompson’s reading voice was as delicate as her singing and her words painted a picture of the English countryside as Redmond provided a beautiful piano accompaniment.

The show ended with a vibrant and saucy cancan with colourful costumes, lively music and all of the characteristic cancan moves. It was a fun, exciting and upbeat end to a very enjoyable evening. Ooh la la!

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