Pros: High energy hiphop theatre unlike anything you’ve possibly ever seen before.
Cons: You almost wish it wasn’t so succinct.
Super stuff here! Riots is an experimental dance performance that tackles the subject of what Paul Mason called ‘the great unrest’ head on. It’s a piece about protest, riots, financial inequality and revolution. Choreographer Robby Graham succeeds where so many playwrights fail in trying to illustrate these concerns on stage. His advantage is that through dance he’s able to express ideas in an abstract manner, thus leaving the audience to make sense of the images presented to them rather than spelling everything out for them.
The dancers use simple everyday devices such as hand torches to great theatrical effect. These torches are used to cast shadows on the walls, highlight remarkable feats of strength and produce moments of eeriness. The soundscape seems almost like the loudest techno slowed down to a terminally slow BPM. It perfectly complements the diverse choreography on display.
Fast paced and energetic, Riots forces us to consider our place in the Western world, our right to protest and what happens when that right or indeed the questions we ask are suppressed. Like all great theatre should, this performance does not offer any tangible answers; rather it compels us to reflect on the events of social unrest in recent years.
It’s a fair statement to make that Men on a Mission feels like an Irvine Walsh novel has had sex with a Quentin Tarantino film, smoked a lot of drugs and given birth to the performance we see on stage tonight. The performance is as much about the recreational use of drugs as the opportunity to recreate the subsequent highs and lows through hip hop dancing. Much like Riots, Men on a Mission is fast paced, energetic and suitably eerie. It is also sexy, morose and incredibly fun. There are some great individual performances. A hilarious performance by one of the dancers involves him recreating the various stages of a bad trip. The constant repetition of dance moves emphasises the paranoia that is often prevalent in peoples’ stories of drug hallucinations.
The soundtrack for the show is, as the press release promises, very ‘Tarantino-esque’. It highlights just how vacuous drug use for recreation’s sake is. Already filmic in quality, the entire piece feels like it could easily make the transition from contemporary dance to the medium of film.
The design for both shows is simple; a big, black box with numerous slats for entrances and exits. The performers are free to traverse, roam, leap and somersault the entire breadth and width of the stage. It is ultimately up to them to create their world for us, the audience, to judge. And they create them with aplomb. I cannot praise this company and their astounding work enough.
Part of the success of both works lies in not just the technical feats of the dancers, but in their acting skills and high levels of performance quality. Both works are short, but at the same time they are as long as they need to be. This is effective storytelling at its finest: succinct, enlightening and truthful.
Robby Graham needs to be commended for laying the foundations of ensuring hip hop theatre is recognised as a valid for of institutional dance. The choreography is slick, eclectic and unlike anything I have ever seen on a professional theatre stage; a fact I’m not entirely comfortable with considering its effects are so immediate. We need to cultivate theatre practitioners like him and support performers like the ones from Southpaw Dance Company dancing for us in this double bill. They are on the cusp of something new and exciting that may well shatter our preconceptions of modern dance. Bring it on I say!
Choreographer: Robby Graham
Booking Information: This show has completed its run.