IF you had to pick a venue which represented 20th-century culture, you would be hard-pressed to find somewhere more important than New York’s Chelsea Hotel.
Anyone who was anyone would hang out at the venue. From artists Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick to musicians Bob Dylan and Patti Smith, from writers Arthur Miller and Gore Vidal to film talent like Stanley Kubrick and Dennis Hopper, they all checked into the infamous hotel.
In fact, it was the place where Dylan Thomas was staying in November 1953 during his literary tour of America before he was rushed to hospital and later died.
Now Cardiff-based company Earthfall is paying homage to the building in its latest production, simply entitled Chelsea Hotel. Premiering in Wales, it will tour a number of UK venues.
“We previously did a show based on Andy Warhol’s Silver Factory, which was his first factory space in Manhattan,” explains Jessica Cohen, who is directing alongside her Earthfall co-founder Jim Ennis.
“While we were researching for that show, we kept coming across references to the Chelsea Hotel.
“There was a wealth of stories about so many wonderful people – artists, writers, musicians – who had lived and worked at the hotel throughout its 100-year history.
“Jim and I have also both spent different times in New York. I visited when I was just 20 and, at the time, I was hanging out at contemporary dance classes and doing a lot of nocturnal living in the clubs.”
The production reveals some of the tragicomic events that have happened occurred at the hotel, which was built between 1883 and 1885.
Four performers and three musicians will take audiences on a voyeuristic journey of discovery through the inhabitants’ lives, loves and longings.
But Cohen is keen to point out that it won’t be following the individual stories of famous guests like Warhol and Thomas.
“We’ve absorbed all of the different stories and recreated our own drama. In very subtle ways we reference people like Patti Smith and Sid (Vicious) and Nancy (Spungen), as well as other people like Dylan Thomas who lived in that space.
“It is all blended with our own stories so the performers are composites of different people.”
The production is brought to life through radical dance, live music and film, capturing significant moments in the history of the rebel artists’ mecca.
The company has spent several weeks in rehearsal ahead of next week’s premiere at the Torch Theatre in Milford Haven, and Cohen is pleased with the way things are taking shape.
“With rehearsals already producing exceptional music, dance and dialogue ready for the opening of the tour, I believe Chelsea Hotel will carry on the growing success of Earthfall’s productions following our previous production At Swim Two Boys,” she says.
Formed in 1989 by Cohen and Ennis, Earthfall has a policy of forging radical choreography with live music and strong visual imagery and has become renowned for staging issue-based work.
The company has worked both nationally and internationally and amassed awards for its live performance and film work.
Last year Earthfall won the CIM Canmol Award for best Marketing Campaign with At Swim Two Boys.
As well as looking forward to the premiere of Chelsea Hotel, one of the company’s former dance productions is being transformed into a new 360-degree film called Pal O’ Me Heart, which is due to be taken to the Edinburgh Festival this summer.
The new commission from Coreo Cymru – Wales’ dance development organisation – follows the success of the first experimental collaboration between Coreo Cymru’s creative producer Carole Blade and the film-makers from Cardiff-based Urban Reaction Research Labs.
“We hope we can transfer the magic from the live performance into the film,” says Cohen.
Ennis adds: “It has been a fantastic experience taking something we have toured extensively to sell out audiences and it onto a different medium.
“We are not just reproducing the film verbatim from the live work; rather we are reconfiguring some of the choreography to an extent that makes the narrative journey clearer and also in a shorter work. So if someone has read the book or seen the performance they will get something new out of it including how we have re-represented it for this format. But even if they haven’t the film will stand in its own right.”
But, in the meantime, Cohen and Ennis are looking forward to the response from Chelsea Hotel – and they hope to stage it in the city where the hotel is based in future.
“We don’t have plans to take it to New York but we long to do that,” says Cohen. “That would be so cool,” says Cohen.
Chelsea Hotel is at Torch Theatre, Milford Haven on April 23 and Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon, on April 27. For full details, visit www.earthfall.org.uk