Monday, 15 March 2010

Has Pineapple Dance Studio torn the fabric of reality?

It started out innocently and smugly enough. After reading Charlie Brooker's agog review in the Guardian, I tuned into Pineapple Dance Studio expecting some of those middle-class water-cooler moments, where we dispense with the pretense of empathy that producers use to appease commissioning editors, instead honing in on the laughs that we're really being sold in shows like My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and those glorious Tourette's documentaries.

"It's like a high-camp absurdist version of The Office," was my initial response. Then I realised that I had badly misjudged it, and that rather than a garish stream of curiously bland flamboyance, it is in fact a highly meta inter-textual dissection of reality in all its forms - plus an incisive analysis of modern society. Honestly. It flirts with reality and shifts perception like nothing I've seen since The Matrix, Memento or Synecdoche.

Oh, of course, to the passing eye it's a frothy documentary about a famous dance studio and its inhabitants. This is ratified by the presence of owner Debbie Moore and dance teacher Mark Tattershall - the studio is their reality and they adhere to the guidelines of that existence with ponderous dilligence. But then alternate realities start to reveal themselves. Behind the construct of the accepted parameters of the studio is the crushing dullardity of everyday, real life in the form of the gent who carries out tedious bureaucratic staff appraisals with his painfully tired demeanour, which serves to remind us that, no matter where we are, we can never totally escape from the humdrum.

Then, as we dig deeper, we find a third strata: the modern reality bequeathed to us by Big Brother. This is the one only where you only exist in terms of media validation; it has its own standards, delusions, demands and forms of representation. This is encapsulated by dance teacher Andrew Stone, who's using the show to promote his fuck's-sake awful band. He embodies the voguish notion that an ability to adhere to the reality TV template of unfounded self-belief and a grating willingness to behave like a tit are more worth more than effort, merit, talent and application. With his amply apparent misguided shitness, this loon also straddles a fourth reality, the close neighbour of reality TV, the mockumentary. His sheer woefulness steers him into David Brent territory, and when he loses his bearings, his band's fetal manager chips in with with some Alan Partridge moments of his own to keep him on track.

But above it all is artistic director Louie Spence (above). He may appear to be an attention-seeking fusion of every possible riotous gay cliche, but if this project is The Matrix, then Louie is Morpheus. Spence is a highly sentient genius who's aware of all of the above planes of reality and exists comfortably on all of them, switching between them with ease. Not only is he the man who physically oversees the day-to-day running of the studio, he also binds the fabric of perception. At the same time as carrying out his tasks, he wears the mask of the Reality TV wannabe - yet he never loses sight of the tepid necessity that underpins life. The clip below was the moment when it all fell into place for me. The key factors here are his respect for fire safety and the presence of a faulty lightbulb...

Rather than mugging, what he's actually done here is fuse the show's stated reality, the theatricality of Reality TV, the absurdity of mockumentary with the banal signifiers of everyday life. In one short, fluid sequence. To a drum track. You have to admit that's impressive.

What's also important to realise is that Louie KNOWS. You can't laugh at him, only with him.

Besides, he operates on four different levels of consciousness, how many are you on, eh?


  1. We caught our first full viewing over the weekend. Andrew Strong is the sort of misplaced know-nothing who belongs in some seventies number like Kenny or Flintlock. Although put him in for Eurovision and he'd go at it like a prize fighter.

    Louie is the kiddie though. Bob Hoskins doing Bob Fosse. The Darth Vader of dance studios.

  2. Strong isn't actually real, is he? He's a Frankenstein's monster built out of showbiz cliches and glitter.

  3. It's Andrew "Stone" not "Strong"!

  4. Ahh, good spot, Anon. will correct it, toot sweet.

  5. I've seen way too much of this show - just wasted another hour of my like earlier this evening!

    I find every single 'character' nauseating and vacuous, and each one winds me up in different ways….. yet…. I don’t switch it off. Work that one out…..

    Starman are brilliant tho……