Thursday 21 March 2024

Dance: An epic final battle

Assembly Hall
by Crystal Pite & Jonathon Young
produced by Kidd Pivot
performers Brandon Alley, Livona Ellis, Rakeem Hardy, Gregory Lau, Doug Letheren, Rena Natumi, Ella Rothschild, Renée Sigouin
music and sound Owen Belton, Juliani and Meg Roe
set Jay Gower Taylor • costumes Nancy Bryant
lighting Tom Visser • video Cybèle Young
Sadler's Wells, London • 20-23.Mar.24

Thrillingly rendered as a collision between dull annual meeting and wild adventure fantasy, this show is visually outrageous, wildly hilarious and fairly impossible to grasp. Choreographer Crystal Pite, writer Jonathon Young and Pite's Vancouver-based company Kidd Pivot are taking on big ideas about how people work in groups, especially when threatened with oblivion. And their witty approach is thoroughly entertaining on multiple levels, even as we strain to understand why it should feel quite so momentous.

The performers act out the recorded dialog with their entire physicality, punching key words and playing up the hilarious banter. Eight people gather in a run-down assembly hall, the Benevolent and Protective Order is holding what some are calling its last meeting. But they still need to put the club's dissolution to a vote, once they get through some minor points of order and a report on a new member outreach programme. Dwindling interest means that they are struggling to pay the bills. And as some members refuse to accept defeat, the meeting spirals out into an epic medieval battlefield.

Each performer creates a vivid character with a specific point of view. At the centre is Gail (Ellis), the primary instigator rebelling against the closing of the society. And then there's the languorous Dave (Lau), who ends up as a knight in very shining armour, while Sean (Lethern) assumes the role of the triumphant king. Essentially, are waging a war for their own identity and community. Or maybe they've decided to go out with a very big bang.

An often staggering combination of sound, lighting, costumes and choreography, this show continually takes the breath away with its glorious tableaux and darkly resonant emotions. The movement is expressive, especially in a number of spinning solos and duets that shift effortlessly between liquid fluidity and jagged spikiness. The zippy dialog pushes the physicality to move at a slightly accelerated pace, which sometimes evokes the tone of a madcap silent movie. And there is a steady stream of jaw-dropping visual freeze frames.

All of this is performed with remarkable precision and a huge blast of humour, from the refreshment break to a full-on sword fight. It's absolutely mesmerising, conveying a sense that there is method to the enormous dramatic madness. The final section feels like it contains a series of big cathartic moments, but because we can't quite follow the thread, they end up feeling intense and beautiful, but utterly bewildering.

For information, SADLER'S WELLS >  

photos by Michael Slobodian, Sasha Onyshchenko • 20.Mar.24

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