Review: Wild Card - Dan Daw

Performance: Thursday 30 and Friday 31 March
- Thursday 6 April 2017

Performance reviewed: Thursday 30 March 2017

The evening’s Wild Card, curated by dance artist and performer Dan Daw, blasts its way into the studio space loaded with experimental gusto and a barrel load of questions for the audience.

A Sadler’s Wells initiative, Wild Card offers up new works curated by dance makers, and here, in dynamic and thought-provoking programming, Daw asks how “you perceive yourself, how you’re perceived and… what is expected of you.”

The first piece, Graham Adey and Keren Rosenberg’s Gender F*ck(er) embodies its title so readily that soon in its co-creator and performer, Rosenberg, fearlessly ploughs into physical metamorphosis to create a game of swapping gender identities – tackling such questions head on.

While the performer slips mercurially between extreme physical representations of men and woman, it’s impossible to work out who she really is. Yet, it’s this very confusion that tickles Rosenberg. Her true identity isn’t relevant. What matters here is how it physically feels to be both man and woman and this message is punched out in powerfully transformative movement and text.

“I really want to know how if feels like to walk around the streets for one day and have a dick… a noticeable pack, broad shoulders… really masculine jaw,” recorded vocals boom out to the audience.

So she finds out. Rosenberg stuffs packaging down her tights and adjusts her gait to accommodate her newfound weight. Before we know it, we are confronted by a sloping jock, filling the space with assumed arrogance.

By skimming seamlessly between identities – informed by her background in Gaga movement, an Israeli based system whereby every part of the body is connected – Rosenberg moves with no end in sight, only transformation.

Whilst her characters are revealed to the audience, she sheds clothes like a salamander malting skin, morphs into agitated music rocker, rapist to seductress and melds into each incarnation by shaping her limbs into physical forms so unrecognisable from the last – but creating terrifying images of the oppressed and the oppressor.

Technically, it’s a brilliant performance as she funnels her body from broad strapping body builder into a narrow slithering Medusa, her physical change is so swift, there’s barely time to register just how it happened.

The audience trips along a few paces behind while she flirts and toys, targeting one unsuspecting member in the front row, whom she employs to tug at the masking tape that represents her bra. As the tape unravels, she reveals her breasts to the audience. I heard an “aaah,” behind me. “ A woman.”

The official explanation of this work suggests: “the work challenges the division of roles by… building a masculine conviction within a vulnerable yet powerful female body.”

Whether or not this message is transmitted, Rosenberg’s considerable ability to transform allows the audience to question their own pre-conceived notions of gender by the way we judge this performance in itself. Such questioning sits at the very heart of Daw’s programming.

The second performance of the night is Daw’s in “On One Condition,” conceived, directed and choreographed by Graham Adey, an examination of how disability is viewed through the eyes of Daw – a man who knows no limitations and thus throws open the same question to the audience – how does it make us feel?

A white line drawing of a house, complete with a three-dimensional doorway sets the scene and from the minute Daw nonchalantly walks down the aisle and into the space donning a pair of white underpants, tattoo proud and flesh quivering, each physical action is painstakingly documented.

We watch in real time how long it takes him to lean down and pull on a sock or tie shoelaces. As the audience bears witness to struggle that comes with daily tasks, he imbues such spirit and humour into the journey that it becomes a poignant and deeply moving one.

His wry smile and smiling eyes confront the audience head on. He stops, stares, fixes his gaze outwards as if we are to be scrutinized, not the other way around.

When performers talk about picking up on the energy in the room to build on live performance, one gets a real sense that this is exactly what is happening here, especially in the scene where he cheekily pokes fun of contemporary dance, by swinging his arms back and forth repetitively.

Whether it’s the boys who laughed at him growing up, or his “Nan” who declared he would never dance, this show is an act of defiance – and it’s this, coupled with a bubbling connection with the audience that makes Daw so memorable a performer and no doubt procured the standing ovation he so very deserved on the night.

Rachel Nouchi is an artist and writer and has recently completed an MA in Movement Direction: Teaching, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

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