Stories are a recurrent theme this evening, appearing in various incarnations throughout a night of very strong work.
Little Red Riding Hood takes an ominous turn in Wolf. Accompanied by the resonances of live cello, Rachel Dean evokes a feeling of childhood innocence blurred with dark edges. She begins to sing and there is something captivating in her simple confidence. Like hearing old folklore for the first time we are drawn close. Suddenly she becomes the wolf as feral howling overtakes her words. Battling between beast and human before loping away as something in-between, we are left to decide for ourselves who we really relate to in this fable.
Jyoti Dance presents a smart feminist parable, an honest tale of one woman’s experience, subtle enough to challenge without condemnation. Jodie Cole is an arresting performer, gracefully fluid, weaving silly and serious together expertly. Shining in the simplest moments, she presents true fragility as she slowly circles, hiding her face with her white dress, bombarded by a deluge of sexist jokes. Later this dress becomes sullied by red chalk, echoing how often women can be branded ‘impure’. Yet we are left with a sense of hope. We also witness the strength of women, their creativity and endurance in rebuilding despite circumstance, and in this we may rejoice.
In Snow we enter a world of magic tricks, quirky choreography and oddly endearing characters. Adam Foster and Susan Kempster are a pleasure to watch with their slightly crazed smiles, fixating gazes and ironic delivery, telling bite-sized stories of personal and professional failure. There isn’t a dull moment in this piece. Moments of beauty and tragedy are constantly interrupted by bouts of irreverent humour, keeping the work intelligent and the audience on their toes. Their tongue-in-cheek approach effectively avoids a sense of total futility whilst exploring important ideas, and when the performers finally disappear into the snow, I am left wanting more.
Rachel Dean is a very self-possessed performer. Or perhaps just plain possessed. With a trance-like stare, she provides a very focused presence onstage. Her solo, Wolf, is a deconstructed Red Riding Hood: a red cape, snatches of dialogue, a lost girl running in circles. It's strange and yet familiar. She begins to sing, rocking her body and pushing out her breath, telling of the perils of being young and female in a fairytale, of straying from the path, until she herself morphs into the howling wolf – her idea being that we embody the tales we tell. It's a slight piece but there's definitely something to get your (great big) teeth into.
Jodie Cole takes up where Dean left off: a lone performer, a fairytale girl under threat, more fragments of text with her body providing the punctuation. But her piece Holi Woman then takes a more real-life diversion. It's a coming-of-age journey, to India and back, but also a feminist awakening, facing up to male abuses and uncomfortably sexist jokes with grace and resolve, breaking out from the circles she paints for herself onstage, illustrating her shifting thoughts with softly staccato gestures. So she went to India and found herself. It's a cliché, but only because it's true.
And then for something completely different. Snow is a gently absurdist comedy of dashed hopes and failures, bad magic and silly dancing, performed by the onesie-clad double act Adam Foster and Susan Kempster. It's confidently put together and they are amusing, engaging performers, especially Foster, a playwright by trade, with a slightly sociopathic grin. It's very precise in construction, although like the snow of the title it has a lightness and an impermanence to it. But it's a strong close to a satisfying evening.