The isolation felt by people with learning disabilities was the subject of Clipped – developed as part of Access All Areas’ upcoming immersive performance project Madhouse Re:Exit. The conceit was simple but effective: in the Victorian institutions that housed people with learning disabilities, caged birds were sometimes brought in to cheer the residents. Dancer DJ Hassan, extravagantly plumed, appeared in an outsized bird cage, alternating between joy – dancing to a 1920s- style flapper tune, or New Age-like music – and despair and frustration. His segregation was completed by a doctor who strapped him into a straitjacket. Clipped told us these feelings of exclusion persist – the hospitals may have gone, but a lack of support means those with learning disabilities remain trapped. Powerful stuff: as a stand-alone performance, however, it felt a little limited in its choreographic scope.
It was hard to work out what to expect of Pacific Dreams from the programme notes – what we got was 30-odd minutes of something akin to a Sixties acid trip gone very bad. The ten modern hippie-styled dancers of Company InforMotion, led by choreographer Muti Musafiri, moved through a series of fragmented scenarios. We started with a blaring soundtrack of nonsensical poetry; moved into a sequence where the performers let their exaggerated breaths push them across the stage; swung into a scene that seemed to involve the most distressing head massage in the world; dipped into some Hofesh Shechter-like mass writhing; and ended up with some crisp, krump-influenced ensemble work. Overstuffed and rather underdeveloped, Pacific Dreams needed its overarching idea to be drawn much more clearly to make this feel like an inclusive experience.
Elementz Ent presented muscular hip-hop dance in Perception, a piece that wanted to make a point about the truth behind the masks people adopt. Four performers in black hoodies seemed to represent dancer/choreographer Lindon Barr’s dark thoughts, which he strove to overcome. The sudden segues into pop-video style synchronised sequences didn’t really seem to feed into that idea successfully. However, the individual bouts of vigorous street dance acrobatics certainly showed off these dancers’ skills.
Last night served up a thoroughly mixed-bag of styles, loosely connected around the theme of changing perspective.
Entertaining and polished, Perception held my lasting impression of the night. Choreographer and performer Lindon Barr seems to hold an omnipotent role, guiding the four younger dancers through an outlet of emotion, channelled into slick and explosive hip-hop movement, sprinkled with whoop-worthy tricks. The four black-clothed dancers performed with aggressive intensity and admirable passion – albeit, the emotion could have been toned down facially for some. The piece opens with lyrical music, to a clean image of a crumpled white sheet which gets rhythmically tugged and shifted. Gradually, the music grows darker and the dancers peel off one by one for energetic solos, building to a final unison. Structurally, the piece was predictable, and I personally found Barr’s central role in the piece a little awkward.
DJ Hassan gave an impassioned performance in Clipped – a piece dealing with an interesting and relevant subject matter. The set – a human-scale Birdcage – with Hassan inside it, dressed in a colourful, glittering bird costume, is visually exciting and well utilised through the choreography. Hassan, as the token bird in a mental hospital, dances tirelessly to a Jive, before growing restless and downtrodden and being reprimanded with a straight-jacket. The piece cleverly returning to an unenthusiastic jive at the end. A well-structured piece, but I found the use of the straight-jacket too raw a representation of mental health.
Finally, an allusive programme note matched the tone of Pacific Dreams – difficult to grasp. The choreography had real moments of clarity and audience-awakening, amidst a lot that was lost. The opening dancer delivered an exciting solo: lunging rigidly across a back-lit diagonal trajectory, dressed a zipped-up Eskimo jacket, then performing sharp, expressive gestures to spoken word – the scene spoke of some wintry, liminal space. The seated manipulation duets and later, a section of group unison, hitting the beats of the music in a Crunking fashion were other moments of coherence and real innovative choreography. Otherwise, it appeared like a lot of wafty improvisation that lasted too long and added very little. Maybe seamless transitions, rather than blackouts, would benefit the structure of the piece.