Review: Rosie Kay Dance Company - There is Hope - Laban Theatre
Rosie Kay has charted a tough, uncompromising journey into the complex, chaotic world of extreme religion while leaving us with the glass-half-full affirmation in her title. There is Hope. Her forte is the style of polemical treatise that physical dance theatre can attack superbly, but rarely does because choreographers usually step back from the edge of the abyss of impropriety and discomfort that such controversy will inevitably have to confront. Most people will politely decline to become involved in a discussion about religious extremes, but Kay and her courageous dancers deserve our fulsome praise for tackling these taboos head-on and refusing to blink.
Yann Seabra’s excellent set is a lop-sided, crucifix-style platform complete with TV screen in the base and trapdoors that enable bodies to come and go and even allow for a demonic birth and a realistic beheading. Coupled with an improvised, tuneless score played live on stage (but with the three musicians neatly tucked away at the back-side of the action), a mood of frenetic indiscipline is sustained over a hard-hitting first act. Kay gives us a bleak, disturbing, black interpretation of religious zeal, animated by peculiar, grotesque, colourless beast masks. There are times when it’s like Rosemary’s Baby meets The Exorcist but with a bit of Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth thrown in since a rubbish-strewn stage also declaims societal waste providing the side order of an ecological and environmental message.
From where I sat, the film clips seemed to be a montage of TV quiz shows – an image enhanced by the “come on down” opening as four of the dancers sprang out of the audience to answer the call of a white-suited host. His evangelising was cleverly portrayed with the words of the bellowing sermon played out in onomatopoeic trumpet sounds. It turned out that the film clips were taken from extreme tub-thumping TV evangelical money-raisers, which is an ironic twist on my initial observations of the game show. The dictator/preacher was deposed by his own flock whose depravities and perversions intensified into bestial lust and murder as the audience was taken in an ever decreasing circular descent into an inferno of chaos and evil.
The five excellent dancers stayed on stage through most of the interval, apparently tidying up the hellish mess created in the opening half-hour but also delivering a few dances (so I’m told since I was in the bar having a drink). Post interval, the mood of the piece changed dramatically with the unmistakeable scent of incense hanging heavily in the auditorium, an olfactory indication of this heightened state of calmness. Here is where the hope springs eternal. I wasn’t entirely sure about the point of the partial nudity towards the end of the work (two topless girls) since it seemed odd that they remained clothed in the scenes of depravity but stripped off for the final minutes of devotion and redemption.
There are too few choreographers prepared to tackle meaningful issues in physical theatre and fewer still who are capable of making such works deserving of the dance description. Kay hits her subject hard, gives the work strong dance content and sends us away, thinking. Her title is all about the meaning of life and the challenging topic of religion. It could also mean There is Hope for the future of modern dance when it is in the hands of such a challenging, thought-provoking choreographer.
UK tour dates:
Graham Watts writes for londondance.com, Dance Tabs, Dancing Times and other magazines and websites in Europe, Japan and the USA. He is Chairman of the Dance Section of the Critics’ Circle in the UK.
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