Review: Tara D'Arquian - Quests - Greenwich Dance

Performance: 17 - 20 February 2016
Reviewed by Alice Westoby - Friday 19 February 2016

Tara D'Arquian's 'Quests' at The Borough Hall Greenwich. Photo: Chantal Guevara

Greenwich Dance’s home is unrecognisable for Tara D’Arquian’s immersive piece Quests. The piece is the second in a trilogy of works titled In Situ which transform spaces in South East London and explore the three stages of Nietzsche’s Three Metamorphoses. The first piece in the triptych (a 2013 Greenwich Dance & Trinity Laban Partnership Compass Commission) transformed a disused chapel in Peckham and now it is the turn of Greenwich’s 1930s built Borough Hall.

The evening begins in a music hall, an introduction to the world D’Arquian has created to tell her story. The room is set with performers – a couple frozen in time in the centre, while we take our seats around the room in cabaret style. As the live music begins, so does the story and the characters of whom there is more to learn about on our way around. There is an initial introduction to the protagonist of the evening; a disturbed director in a dry spell of his creativity and after a moment more of context setting the audience is split. Cleverly and subtly half the crowd are summoned by a doctor calling ‘patient 288 with a red ticket’ into the next room – we are all ‘patient 288’ – and off we go to begin the narrative.

Much of the storytelling is led by three figures in a way reminiscent of a Greek chorus, popping up at crucial points in the story and being totally omniscient to the action. They wile through the audience like smoke as they spread their reach around every room and are often used as a clever holding device; their undulating movements mesmerising the crowd until the scene is set in the next room. As the narrative unfolds they observe and comment on the story in front of them, taking it forward, in a mostly seamless fashion, down into the bowels of the building and up through winding staircases. They are ever present both in the mind of the protagonist and in the experience of the audience and they move eerily as one with each other and the walls of the building.

The first stop is a visit to a crazed detective who appears to be working on the disappearance of the director’s missing love, which instigates the unravelling of clues that are uncovered throughout the course of the evening. The most cleverly executed of the scenes is one set within the lobby of a hotel while the audience observe altercations between the protagonist and his love interest. These clues then continue to emerge through a number of scenarios, which culminate with a show within a show and the divided audience reunited for the final scenes. This finale is impressive in its scale featuring video projection, live sound, shifting furniture and at times moving the entire audience, which could not have been achieved without D’Arquian’s team of volunteer performers, all recruited from the local area. They inconspicuously blended into the audience and appeared at perfectly timed moments to guide the crowd and the parts of the set around the room. The set, along with the attention to detail within the entire building is much to the credit of designer Yann Seabra who creates a myriad of locations within one using parts of Borough Hall not usually seen by the public – and are unlikely to be seen in this way again.

The mix of theatre and dance that D’Arquian has conjured within Quests complement each other in that they assist the story equally and never make the audience feel like they are simply watching a play or a dance performance. It all blends well to create a full immersive experience for the onlookers in every scenario. In smaller areas of the building, a more intimate number of audience members in the space may have been to greater effect to ensure a ‘perfect’ view of the action but that’s perhaps too much of an ask. The beauty of theatre like this is not knowing where in the action you will be placed, sometimes it may be right in the firing line and sometimes further removed. But in a work such as Quests, it certainly would be possible to go again and again and take something different away from what would surely be a entirely different performance than the last.

Continues at the Borough Hall, Greenwich until Sat 20 February

Alice Westoby studied Dance at the University of Chichester and now works in arts marketing in London, as well as writing about dance for A Younger Theatre and London Calling. She has taken part in The Place’s Resolution Review 2016. Find her on Twitter @alicemayw_

Photos: Chantal Guevara

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