Review: Marc Brew Company - For Now, I Am... - Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler's Wells

Performance: 10 & 11 March 2016
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Friday 11 March 2016

Marc Brew 'For Now I Am...' Photo: Bettina Strenske

While retraining for most dancers conditioned by a particular style of dance is challenging, what must it be like for a dancer to have to rediscover a body that is totally different?

Marc Brew, dancer, choreographer and artistic director has had to do just that. In his new autobiographical solo, For Now , I am… Brew explores the emotional and physical ramifications of waking up to a body that was paralysed from the waist down and how he began to inhabit his ‘new’ body. The solo is a response to a near fatal car accident Brew experienced nineteen years ago, which left him with a serious spinal cord injury and multiple internal injuries. Waking up in the white, clinical setting of a hospital and realising that his strong, finely-tuned balletic body was broken and that his legs no longer worked was so traumatic that it has taken him this length of time to reconnect with those initial sensations.

For Now, I am… is an intense and creative odyssey exploring the emotional, spiritual and physical issues of engaging with a transformed body. Rather than dwelling on the tragedy of his condition, Brew expresses his acceptance of his new form and curiosity in what it can do. His collaboration with composer Claire McCue and visual artist Jamie Wardrop creates a poetic and multi-layered piece which not only investigates the body but also metaphors of birth, death and ritual.

The stage is covered with a white kabuki silk. Wardrop’s projections of light, clouds, water and other images flit over its surface conjuring up fluid landscapes: skies, deserts, oceans, tides. Continuous arresting visual imagery interacts with the choreography and inspires the mood of each section. At the beginning the white setting of the stage reflects the clinical atmosphere of a hospital, while light projections suggest hospital graphs and scans. The contours of Brew’s body just visible beneath the silk cover protrude like a mountain range in the desert, solid yet uneven. With Claire McCue’s atmospheric score – ritualistic chimes and sombre cello, a golden strip of light, the scene could be a burial; a shrouded body, then sounds of water (cleansing and purifying), extend the metaphor further. It’s very spiritual. Music and lighting respond to Brew, all three are in sync and testament to an effective collaboration.

Brew slowly emerges from under the silk, fingers tentatively moving first, creeping across his upper body like hermit crabs. He examines his upper body, experiments with his range of movement cautiously, remembering how it must have felt; how he had to accept what must have seemed like endless limitations, nowhere near ready to embrace his metamorphosis. Yet there is no emotion, no reactions of anger or frustration in his performance. He drags himself out from under the silk cover, exposing his back to us – scars, lumps are visible, like etchings on his skin. Crumpled over, he conveys a visceral sensation of being broken but pragmatically keeps moving, testing, gradually breathing energy and life into his damaged home. Rather than sensationalising or glossing over the mental and physical complexity of his situation, Brew embraces it and communicates with unbelievable honesty.

His movements become larger and he travels around the stage, rocking, turning, rolling, gathering the huge silk around his legs like an umbilical cord, celebrating his rebirth. Finally discarding the silk to reveal his whole body and legs, he crouches looking out at us. With further swift manipulations of his limbs, agile balances and steely determination he edges forwards owning his disability, making it work for him.

In a final scene which recalls the transcendent videos of Bill Viola, Brew, attached by his feet to a harness, is pulled up towards the roof feet first. Projections and sounds immerse him in deep water. It is a triumphant sensory passing from one existence to another.

Continues at Lilian Baylis Studio on 11 March

Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Insider

Photos: Bettina Strenske

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