Review: Deborah Light - Hide - The Place

Performance: 13 June 2014
Reviewed by Samantha Whitaker - Monday 16 June 2014

Deborah Light 'Hide' Photo: John Collingswood

On entering the auditorium, the audience find Jo Fong standing naked on a speaker. Half giggling, half crying, she’s clearly uncomfortable at being so publicly exposed and vulnerable. And so begins Hide: a series of fragments that together form what we’re told is a work that deals with appearance and disappearance (hide: out of site, concealed from view), delving under the skin (hide: animal pelt) to discover internal worlds, and watching each other reveal and reinvent ourselves (hide : a shelter for watching animals).

Building on her solo piece Cortex, Cardiff-based dance artist and choreographer Deborah Light pulled together a high-calibre trio of performers – Fong, Eddie Ladd and Rosalind Haf Brooks – to collaborate on a bold new work to further her exploration into how physical language manifests and communicates our internal psyche. With each performer bringing her own stories to the table, Hide becomes as much their piece as it is Light’s. These stories, along with Light’s own experiences, are layered over movement vocabulary born out of physical improvisation based on instinct and impulse. The set is minimal, just a few mobile studio lamps manipulated by the performers to move the spotlight around the stage. And they all wear black, frequently dressing, undressing and swapping clothes, concealing themselves with hoods and hats. The frenetic electronic score, by Sion Orgon, is as erratic as the action, interspersed with voices, choral music and fragments of children in a playground, among other things.

Through movement, sound, spoken word, humour and writing (in chalk on the floor), three narratives emerge. Fong’s is the story of an aging performer who is afraid that her execution on stage is deteriorating ( ‘I can’t keep up with my face’ ), while Ladd’s is rooted in her decision to reinvent herself, shaking off her real name ( Gwenith Owen ) and with it her femininity and Welsh heritage. Hers is the most coherent narrative, which comes neatly to a conclusion at the end when she declares: “I am a Welsh-speaking female. I should not hide.” Brooks, on the other hand, is a bit of a mystery. For quite a long time, we watch her sinewy frame shaking and convulsing hysterically on all-fours, and later she explores both her fellow performers by sniffing them in a slightly erotic, animalistic way. At one point she says ‘I don’t like talking’ , and perhaps she’s challenging the boundaries of what’s socially acceptable – although it comes across as more insane than insurgent. Breath seems to be her means of communication, as a series of deep exhalations develops into a dragon-like roar.

Overall, the pace is slow and considered, speeding up towards the end when all three degenerate into apparent lunacy: Fong engaged in some seriously manic hairography, while Ladd seems unable to control her limbs and must be ‘rewired’ by the other two. Fittingly, they end as apes, noises and all. All three are clearly very able performers, and although there isn’t much dance content in Hide, we do see glimmers – Ladd in a curious staccato solo, for example, and Fong as she tumbles and rolls away to curl up awkwardly against the wall. But, frustratingly, Fong in particular is quite often just wandering around the stage, staring at the ceiling looking for something we know she hasn’t lost yet.

Hide is touring the UK during 2014-15, and a post-show session revealed that Fong finds performing the piece every few months a cathartic exercise, a breath of fresh air from her day job as a director. And that’s just it: although the movement vocabulary is interesting, and in parts quite moving, overall the piece doesn’t do much more than allow the dancers a slightly self-indulgent opportunity to confront their issues.

Hide was part of the Springloaded 2014 season at The Place

Photo: John Collingswood

Samantha Whitaker is an editor and freelance writer. Find her on Twitter @swhit1985

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