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27, Contact

27

Image: Oliver Rudkin

27 by Peter McMaster

Contact, Manchester [21.06.17]

It’s dark. There are two men in glow in the dark skeleton onesies. I think a Nirvana song is playing (it’s not Smells Like Teen Spirit so who knows). Pitch black. Silence. A glow. We are then asked to imagine a woman. A woman who is laying on her side whilst giving birth. The woman is Peter’s mother.

27 is not just a story about growing into a 27 year old man. I feel that if this were the case, I’d likely have not been able to relate with the piece because a) i’m not 27 yet b) i’m not a man and c) i’m not white. 27 however does something quite special in that it is able to transcend these states and their associated experiences and deliver a series of time conscious moments that encourage us to reflect on ourselves. In hearing Peter and Nick’s journeys from birth to their 27th year, we participate in what can only be described as a game of snakes and ladders in which no one is sure of who is rolling the dice. Everything from successfully lodging a marble up your nose to first attempts at masturbation and relationships to your mother reading your diary are a plenty in these honest journeys through time.

To the surprise of many audience members, we are each asked to assist either Peter or Nick in undressing. Those sat on the peripheries of the horseshoe seating arrangement are tasked with assisting with the unzipping of the onesies and pulling of sleeves and, those of us sat towards the middle are tasked with removing the bottom half of the onesie. In my case, the chosen action was firm grip and a quick tug and down come the bottoms… it’s always interesting when you put a naked body in a space (or in this case two). The state of vulnerability in the room drastically changes and it can become hard to know who feels more vulnerable: the actors or the audience. When Peter and Nick invite the audience to touch their bodies and invite themselves to sit and lay on audience members, they are met with mixed reactions. Everything from laughter, to avoidance, to just not knowing how to react is expressed by audience members.

The only time I find bare bodies particularly amusing is when watching The Full Monty. External to this, I often feel that I am witnessing the greatest piece of art in existence and this applies to all bodies no matter what they look like. Scenarios such as this remind me of the first time I went to a life drawing class and on that day I felt like it was the first time I had truly seen another person. Peter and Nick welcomed us to see them.

They then engaged in quite a full on, rough and tumble fight (Catherine Cookson eat your heart out) around the floor. I have to say I hadn’t expected to spend my Wednesday evening watching two men rolling around the floor in some cocoa powder-esque sand… I usually spend this time at a writers workshop. Chuck in a splash of Wild Horses with no Susan Boyle in sight and mate, you’re on to a winner here.

What follows is a cascade of a phone call to Peter’s mother, a falling dominoes scenario where the men catch each other and a barrage of apologies for bad decisions. In watching Peter and Nick take each other’s weight truthfully and then swap roles to fall into their next moment, we as an audience, are given a rude awakening to the repetitive nature of life and exposed to the importance of brief moments and the beauty of their short lifespan. 27 reminds us that whatever age we are, we a changing and we are choosing but, most importantly that we are living and that whether you make the right choice or the wrong choice, the thing that truly matters is the journey along the way.

Verdict: 27 is an honest and witty piece of storytelling that creates a shared vulnerability and window of self exploration within a theatre space. Worth experiencing.

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Review: Schrödinger, Contact

Reckless-Sleepers-Credit-Adrian-Philpott2

Image: Adrian Philpott

Schrödinger by Reckless Sleepers

Contact, Manchester [24.05.17]

The cat’s name was George.

A black box with the front wall removed. Many openings like a multi-faceted lift the flap book without the colourful folly of childhood. Water, water everywhere but, too many drops to drink. Chalky mountains. Sheets strangling lovers faces. X marks the spot.

In 1998, Reckless Sleepers built a box. It wasn’t just any old box. This box was akin to the theorised box created by Schrödinger. Within the box, a cat (George), can be both alive and dead simultaneously yet, we are only able to see one state upon looking in the box. The box creates a paradox. A compelling thought experiment.

Nineteen years later and Reckless Sleepers invite you to explore the box. Watch the chalking of arrows, listen to the simultaneous vocalisations of a letter, ponder every element of the space and then… a man drops through a flap in the ceiling of the box. The cycle repeats with differences that are nuanced yet so repetitive that they could almost be the same. Things fall – whether or not they are apart, together or existing in both states is up to you. Books drop, water is flippantly swished out of wine glasses, pencils are sharpened, apples are eaten, chairs and tables rearranged, bodies lifted and dropped and pulled and pushed. Bodies breathing.

You as the observer are tasked with watching Xs being marked through a physical ‘dance’ of hands pressed against black chalk stained walls and pondering what this mountain range of movement has to do with a cat. This is not your only task and it is not your task at all. Maybe there are no tasks. Maybe you are just here to watch. Or maybe you are not here to watch but to be. You’re looking into a box for one hour but who’s to say that you as the audience who reside in the dark are not George. Maybe you are George and the frantic capers and building of a triangular pyramid structure to the sound of Hushabye Mountain is how you sleep at night. Maybe you don’t sleep. Maybe no one sleeps because thoughts keep threading themselves as time ticks and you exist in a space where everything stops and starts simultaneously.

A man drops through a flap in the ceiling of the box. The cycle repeats itself.

A woman drops through a flap in the ceiling of the box. The cycle repeats itself.

A man threatens another man with a hammer each time he removes a hand from the wall. The cycle repeats itself.

Two men and two women drink with chaotic order to the chanting of numbers. The cycle repeats itself. It goes and goes and goes. Round and rounder. When pace is lost, they fall from the wagon one by woman. Until there is stillness.

A book is dropped many times.

And a music box keeps playing Hushabye Mountain.

 

In Schrödinger, Reckless Sleepers have welcomed us to sample the delights of all contrasts without their difference. We are placed in a space in which logic constantly defies itself and forces us to consider whether what we think is happening is what is actually happening at all. Watching someone draw has never been so compelling that at one point, I acknowledged the rest of the stage and thought ‘Oh shit, that man ate an apple and I missed it…why am i concerned about missing a man eating an apple?’ I had a weird sense of feeling robbed every time I missed something despite, making decisions about what I was looking at. Reckless Sleepers bring original physicality and warped compulsive sequences that make you question how much you’re being given to see and how much you are choosing to see. Is there any choice in this experience apart from you sitting in your seat: yes and no. Are there an infinite yet finite number of possibilities for each encounter. Every time you see someone drop onto the stage, do they fall? Are you already falling into a space in which everything is nothing and nothing is everything. Yes and no. Juxtaposition is okay among friends and strangers because maybe we’re all the same but different anyway.

Verdict: This really was quite extraordinary. The cogs have not stopped ticking in my head since this encounter and I doubt they will anytime soon. Reckless Sleepers are incredibly talented presenters who are able to give us an experience quite unlike any other. This is definitely one of the most unique things I have ever seen and it almost makes me think that theatre generally has become quite static. This defied all the rules and I feel privileged to have experienced true artistry on stage. Schrödinger is brave, mind-boggling and really quite stunning.

 

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Review: Superposition, STUN

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Image: Tamsin Drury

Superposition by Chanje Kunda

STUN, Manchester

“The great thing about lap dancing is it’s universal, you can do it anywhere”

Take a seat in a smoky night club. Await your performer. You paid for her time, after all. But, before all of that, you need some etiquette lessons in the art of erotic dance.

Superposition is a funny, honest, frank and hopeful look at the questions that surround the universe, through the juxtaposed lens of lap dancing and quantum physics. Chanje Kunda has successfully taken two concepts that you wouldn’t normally find in the same sentence and flawlessly merged them into a dialogue around bodies, ethics and being. We are invited to attend a sequence of lessons that are erotic dancing’s answer to Summer Magic’s ‘Femininity’ We watch Chanje put on a pair of the most glorious ‘stripper shoes’ and then join her in a guided demonstration of walking, winking, floor fuckery and how to captivate your paying ‘guest’ through dance. These lessons describe the art in a crisp and focused manner yet, the demonstration is wholeheartedly funny and relateable. Watching Chanje wobble in her sky high heels and try to deliver these poses with elegance reminds us of the awkwardness we’ve all felt when trying to learn to walk in heels and how to do ‘sexy’ in the way that society expects us to.

In between lessons, Chanje recounts encounters as a visitor to lap dancing clubs and how mesmirising it is to watch someone dance. These re-tellings are poetic in nature and allow us to journey back with Chanje and visualise the setting. Beautifully complimented by sharp yet subtle physicality, Superposition is an honest and in depth look at how we think and react to bodies and the spaces they reside in.

There is something quite beautiful about how real and truthful this piece is. As Chanje shares her own experience of lap dancing lessons, we are all reminded that our internal dialogues in group settings are incredibly valid and often very funny. When she describes how they all undressed in front of each other and she was left completely baffled by the differences in pubic hair between herself and her white counterparts, we cannot help but laugh at the bluntness of this thought being verbalised. Given that the media likes nothing more than to peddle the myth that body hair is wrong and that you’re either hairless or a super hairy feminist, it was nice to hear this unfiltered unpacking of how much of what we’ve been told is nonsense and the reality that the only real shared characteristic of bodies is purely that they are bodies. And, it is their variation that makes them truly beautiful.

Superposition is an invitation to a self assessment and a learning curve that you invested in. Chanje steps out of her meeting with her fellow lap dancing students and provokes us: “I let you watch me because you paid… I wonder what you think of my body”. And in this statement, we are forced to consider the politics of ownership, trade and, the commodification and policing that surrounds bodies but, more specifically black women’s bodies. In our journey down the rabbit hole, Chanje has created a space in which she challenges perceptions of black bodies and expresses the strength and beauty they possess. She looks into the hypersexualisation yet simultaneous ‘ugly’ stereotypes that surround black bodies and through the use of physics, explains black excellence. This is a piece of theatre that every black woman needs to see. It is uplifting and a concrete reminder that we are allowed to be apologetically black and that we are as beautiful as the universe itself because we are part of it.  It is in her declaration of wants “I want to display/dance/exhibit/own my black body” that she shows the defiance, honesty and self love that every black woman deserves to have in their life.

As this performance was a work in progress, the depth of and attention to big and somewhat taboo topics was commendable and I cannot wait to see the completed show when it premiers in October 2017.

Verdict: Superposition is the empowering evening that every black woman deserves. We are invited to contemplate time, loneliness, beauty and strength – all through a dialogue that would make a great mindfulness album. A cathartic, funny and brutally honest show about bodies, particles and the universe. Stunning!

 

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Review: Turn, Contact

turn

Image: Holly Rush

Turn: a micro-festival of North West dance

Contact, Manchester [28.04.17]

This review covers: Origami by Kapow Dance, Madre by Peter Groom Dance Theatre, Saiserit by Giorgio de Carolis, The Album of Love by Ane Iselin Brogeland, Periodo Blu by Matrafisc Dance, What’s Mine Is Yours by Coalesce Dance and INFAMY by The inFamous Five.

Three spaces continually evolving in response to the bodies within them that become rhythmic story books in the presence of both song and silence. Turn brings new work to the table created and performed by dancers from the North West of England. In its ninth year, the festival featured 12 new works (a number of which running simultaneously due to space capacity and then repeating at the end of the night).

The evening began in space 1, opened by Eithne Kane of Kapow Dance. Origami was a piece true to its name. Kane’s body folded , creased, turned, rolled and held shape in this bold articulation of what bodies are capable of being and communicating.

This was then followed by Peter Groom’s striking performance of Madre. A piece of dance theatre that gave us Paris Je T’aime meets the Wizard of Oz meets meets Marilyn Monroe and so much more. Peter walks out on to the stage with a nude stocking over his head, a plain t-shirt, boxers and red heels. Moving from strolling to symphonic signing, Peter takes us on a journey of lamenting what may or may not have been. We become part of this journey as he beckons us to come to the stage but, his offer is silently declined. This piece was filled with humour and passion and blurred the lines between dance, theatre and live art. An exceptional offering to start off the night.

At this point, the audience were split in two – one half went to see the following shorter pieces in space 5 (which I did not see): Only Speak When Spoken To by Meraki Collective, The Intersection Series by Jo Cork, The Visitor by Born + Bred Theatre Dance and A Film with Hope by Grace Surman & Clare Dearnaley. In space 2, two longer pieces were presented to the audience: Saiserit by Giorgio de Carolis and The Album of Love by Ane Iselin Brogeland.

Saiserit is a simplistic yet captivating piece of dance – repeated phrases delivered with precision and emotion lead us on a journey that pursues both knowledge and denial simultaneously. The relationship between Giorgio, a small black box and a mirror encourage us to reflect on ourselves. We watch him conceal his face with the box, pursue it and gaze into the mirror with his back to us. It is only half way through this piece that music is played. And in recognition of that change, it is apparent that this piece is very special. It can live in silence yet give us a wholly meaningful sensory experience. It makes us reflect on how much we really know and how much we are both knowingly and unknowingly ignorant of.

The Album of Love by Ane Iselin Brogeland followed and delivered what I can only begin to describe as the most poignant moment of the night. The piece I Want To Know What Love Is by Foreigner, Sexual Healing by Lionel Richie and a voice-over that talks of love: love is an act of surrender. Throughout this piece, Ane surrenders her self to the audience, the movement and to herself, all in an exploration of the states and expressions of love that can be experienced. She expresses the struggles and suffocations that we have all felt at some point. But the real power of this piece is in the shaking and the breathing – open to interpretation but nonetheless, relateable. By far, the gem of the night.

Following an interval to two audience halves were brought back to space 1 to watch the final three pieces (before being given directions to watch pieces they hadn’t opted for earlier). Two duets and a group piece graced the stage. Matrafisc Dance offered us a couple – one trapped in the past and one day dreaming of the future – each trying their hardest not to lose their head (their polystyrene one, quite literally). We observe their individual torment but longing to exist in the same space. The synchronisation of the performers, Antonello Apicella and Ina Colizza, was completely flawless and beautiful to watch. A relationship of equal beauty could be found in Coalesce Dance’s What’s Mine Is Yours? Anna Papatheodorou and Fern Maia gave a subtle yet thought provoking performance exploring how female strength can fight back against harassment. This was the sort of dance that was nice to watch at the time but it’s underlying message really hit home upon leaving theatre and has stayed with me all day. A good example of how we can use dance as activism.

And lastly, The inFamous Five took to the stage to perform Infamy – a comical yet serious look at a world that chose both Brexit and Trump …and how this world observes the women that reside in it. A great soundtrack, incredible facial expressions and a poke straight in the eye of politics. Raise your teacups and applaud.

On leaving the theatre, I reflected on what I had seen and how it made me feel. And then, I remembered that Akeim Toussaint Buck was unable to perform due to illness – he is one of the artists who drew my attention to Turn. However, I was also thinking about the lack of dancers of colour in the festival and wondering why this was the case. All of the organisations involved actively work with artists of colour, so I was surprised and a little confused at this. But, I guess the way to change that is to shout about Turn and encourage dancers of colour to apply and bring their offerings to the table. Turn is a fantastic platform and bringing more artists of colour to this platform can only build upon its unique offering.

Verdict: On the whole, Turn has been one of the highlights of my arts calendar so far this year. It has delivered new, innovative, relateable and meaningful dance theatre from a strong mix of northern talent. It is the sort of event that you go and shout about.

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