I didn’t know what to expect when I took my seat in Sadler Wells and waited for the performance to begin. I’m not someone who typically goes to dance performances and there is always an anxiety that I won’t ‘get’ it, that it will ‘go over my head.’ As such, I found myself desperately flicking through the programme, trying to alight upon a narrative or premise that I could use to ground myself in the ensuing spectacle: thus, I stumbled upon this cheery proclamation – “this creation is a reason to cry.”
This is not an uplifting show. Do not expect to leave feeling an uncomplicated sense of enjoyment, or an uncomplicated sense of anything for that matter. It is intense and complex, and the performance revels in the confusion and discomfort it causes. These are not reasons not to see this piece; they are its greatest strengths and what made it such a powerful experience.
There are six dancers in the show and they all remain on stage for the full hour. The women and men (an exact 3:3 split) wear almost identical grey leotards with long black socks, and with the lighting slightly dim throughout (and with the women’s hair scraped back), dancers of both genders often blend into one another. This idea of liminal borders seems key in the piece, interrogating ideas of identity. Firstly, ideas of group identity in contrast to the individual are a recurrent theme. The dancers constantly and fluidly switch into positions where one dancer performs individual choreography whilst the rest of the group remain in sync; at other times, each dancer does uniquely stylised moves whilst remaining in keeping with a cohesive and overarching group movement. It is fascinating to watch and means that there is always somewhere to look on stage as the dynamics are forever shifting.
Secondly, there is a distinctly queer quality to this piece which I doubt can be anything other than intentional. With such a perfect gender split, it would have been easy to pair the dancers in heterosexual terms, especially in a piece about love and heartbreak. Instead, the most explicit sexual moment of the piece focuses on two men and the immediate follow-up to this sees the men moving with a posturing pride, filled with confidence and power. Gon Biran in particular stood out for his particularly effeminate style of movement throughout the performance. That said, this is an intentionally ambiguous and conceptual piece, so when there is a similarly intense moment between two of the women, I feel less sure if this is intimating queer love or symbolic of something beyond gender entirely – the universality of the human experience.
The first five or ten minutes of the show was torturous to watch. The music is just a steady, rustic beat, and the dancers move their bodies painfully slowly. Rebecca Hytting gave a fantastic performance in her opening ‘solo’, in which she twisted her body into some painfully unnatural poses, arms bent back, Black Swan-esque. Later in the performance, a repeated punching gesture enacted by two of the female dancers, one seeming to lash out at the other, was equally discomforting and darkly violent. At certain points in the piece, dancers contribute to the music by slapping their chests and even crying out at times. It is a show centred on the pain of love and this really added to that sense of raw, painful emotion.
I was intrigued by the transitions from more mechanical movements and total fluidity, which were seamless and felt natural in a way I hadn’t thought possible. I completely believed that the dancers were embodying and living out the emotions on stage. Therefore, when the music style changed into a seemingly more upbeat song, with lyrics, it was the dancers who gave the transition credibility. The incredibly precise control of tone and pace was impressive; only once towards the end, with a sequence that involved the group repetitively circling the stage, did I feel a flicker of impatience as the pace slackened momentarily. Furthermore, the show doesn’t have a definable narrative and this can leave the audience feeling a little lost: its ambiguity allows for a multitude of interpretations which can be glorious, but can also be rather overwhelming.
Sitting with the base vibrating through my entire body (and soul) for much of the performance, I felt like I was feeling and living the emotional journey alongside the dancers, caught up in the intensity of their dancing. However, the illusion of unity was shattered when the six dancers limped back onto stage for the final bows, looking absolutely drained and thoroughly exhausted. This is a highly intensive show for the performers and I remain in awe at their mesmerising talent. I would recommend this piece; but go prepared to leave the theatre reeling and ruminating, and perhaps a little frustrated at the ultimate lack of answers.
Guest Reviewer: Claudia Graham