Emilyn Claid review – sexy, funny fantasies dipped in clay

A 72-year-old with close-cropped silver hair, tattoos and a leather vest, posing to 2am dance music with a fur cloak and killer stare. It’s not what you expect from a grandmother, but Emilyn Claid has never been one to conform.

It’s 23 years since Claid’s last stage appearance. She started her dance career with the National Ballet of Canada in the late 60s. But she quickly left that behind to become part of Britain’s New Dance movement in the 70s and 80s, a group of artists liberating dance, and themselves, from the strictures of ballet, and moving into more avant garde, activist territory.

Claid also has a parallel career as a gestalt psychotherapist, author and teacher. There are so many layers to a life – not something we always see on stage. In this solo show there are contrasts everywhere. Claid’s lean, muscular body is visibly strong, her back proud, but she explains she had an eye operation earlier this year that left her forced to stop and bow her head, like a parody of an old person.

Only Claid could perform these slices of thoughts, fantasies, identities

There are shifts between the soft-voiced conversation in which she engages the audience, amusingly recounting the songs on her own funeral playlist, and the cool posturing, looking us dead in the eye like it’s a photoshoot: confident, challenging, sexy. At one point she’s sprawled on a huge animal fur, being primal; at another, doing a camp disco number; then plunging her foot, or head, into a big blob of clay. Then she emerges with a microphone to be her funny, honest self.

This piece – emilyn claid, Untitled – was created with the help of choreographers Heidi Rustgaard, Florence Peake and Joseph Mercier, but you feel it’s only Claid who could perform these slices of thoughts, fantasies, identities. Even things that she tells us are meaningless – an elaborate headdress, for example – turn out to be tied to threads of her history. There are themes quietly in the room: queerness, transformation, death. Perhaps they could be more loudly gathered into more of a thesis. Or perhaps that’s far too conventional as Claid keeps her experimental edge.