Cowpuncher My Ass is unlike anything you’ve seen before. Taking cues from London and the American West, this explosive dance show creates an inclusive space by both accepting and tearing down labels and stereotypes. Renowned British choreographer Holly Blakey is responsible for attempting to change the public perception of the cowboy: of what the cowboy should be, and how the cowboy should act. Her interpretation is far from Hollywood’s own aging, hypermasculine caricatures; she digs deeper, instead attempting to tell a real story about real people in all their diversity. Blakey isn't new to London's creative scene - just last year, she had the chance to introduce an audience to the Cowpuncher concept, in celebration of the reopening of the Southbank Centre's Queen Elizabeth Hall. She now returns to the same venue with its sequel; yet, in her words, it isn't 'necessary to see the first part, to understand the second one'.
This collaborative work features solid artistry: Mica Levi, previously a songwriter for the 2016 Oscar-nominated film Jackie, is responsible for sound, while Andreas Kronthaler and Vivienne Westwood are both unisex fashion icons in their own right. Together, they create an alternative and powerful performance that seeks to address the intertwining themes of pleasure, desire, group relations, destruction, self-love and vulnerability. Of course, these aesthetic touches would not be complete without the presence of the seven captivating dancers: Sakeema Crook, Tylor Deyn, Chester Hayes, Grace Jabbari, Becky Namgauds, Jonny Vieco and Naomi Weijand. They take the lead, conveying the inclusive message that is central to Cowpuncher My Ass: to be free to love whoever you want.
Photo credit: Nicole Ngaise
Words do not feature in the show, nor are they needed. Even in silence, the dancers' movements convey emotions that resonate with the audience. Connecting with an audience can certainly be difficult, and arguably more so in the absence of text. But Cowpuncher My Ass is visually inescapable, whether it is a recreation of a typical cowboy step, a simulation of the sexual or simply - in the spirit of its title - watching the dancers' behinds bob up and down. There are occasionally moments of confusion due to the lack of information, but this isn't necessarily a disadvantage.
Music is key to Cowpuncher My Ass: it captures the show's central purpose, and creates a necessary expressiveness alongside the dance. This primarily takes the form of experimental indie-pop that is sometimes low, sometimes high, depending on the expression of the dancer. 19th-century romanticism, anyone? William Turner's 1805 painting The Shipwreck certainly reflects the brutality and emotional strength on display in Cowpuncher My Ass, allowing viewers to experience confusion, laughter and exaltation in the most sublime manner.
Photo credit: Nicole Ngaise
Cowpuncher My Ass is far from fragile, instead making for a decidedly aggressive and punchy spectacle. Thumping dance moves, loud music and bold outfits fuse to create a fun, free-flowing show for novelty-seekers of the best kind.