Pros: Great work from the props and production people and a real cryptic puzzle to solve.
Cons: Over-long. Cold.
Belonging(s), from Tilted Productions, is a big, ambitious and clever promenade dance show. It starts underground and ends on the beach, looking out to sea. It has nine performers at its heart, but incorporates more than twenty local participants who duck in and out of the action. It takes two objects, the vinyl record and the cardboard box, brings out every one of their cultural and emotional associations, and puts them to physical use in countless ingenious and unexpected ways. It surprises at every turn but, truth be told, I enjoyed it much less than I admired it.
The first act takes place in the gloomy underground car park of an office building where, in a nod to one of the show’s central motifs, the audience is seated on sheets of cardboard. The off-the-wall opening scenes riff on the theme of man in a machine, with performers wrapping themselves in cardboard, slipping in and out of boxes, throwing records about and generally looking alienated.
The action is made more confusing by poor sight-lines; there are great concrete pillars between parts of the audience and the action, so it’s hard to know whether you’re missing some vital part of the picture. That said, the main set piece sequence is clearly visible and rather neat: cardboard boxes are fashioned into a production line for records, which roll along to be sleeved and packed by the workers. At the end of the act the shutters go up and the performers, carrying their precious boxes and record players, move out into the light. From our position on the floor it’s a very cinematic image as they walk up the ramp, disappearing from the head downwards.
The second act is concerned with human relations and the power of recollection, as performers come together to look at old photographs or enjoy a favourite record. Whilst there is movement throughout the show, this is the act with the most obvious dance content. The first sequence is a moving tableau of awkwardness; a couple try to kiss with a record sandwiched between their faces, whilst a solitary man spins his forehead on a turntable. The performers lift and roll each other, but everything looks uncomfortable and deliberately maladroit; it made me feel quite queasy.
Then suddenly the mood changes, and we’re treated to a few moments of really light-hearted, witty dance. Couples flirt and play, records become fans and beating hearts. It is delightful and all too short-lived, because a bundle of boxes arrive, signalling that the performers must pack up again and move on.
This time we’re led across the road to the seafront, which is full of surprises. Voices can be heard talking about treasured possessions and the making of a home, whilst additional performers pop up on either side, wearing record sleeves as hats and flying origami geese. It is undeniably surreal and impressively stage managed.
Still, as the show reaches its wistful conclusion, I can’t shake the sense that I’ve been led around a series of tricksy sideshows. Clever, thought-provoking sideshows they certainly are, but if I don’t feel much satisfaction in the finale, it’s because there are no characters here, just cogs in a finely-tuned theatrical machine.
Choreographer: Maresa von Stockert
Producer: Tilted Productions
Booking until: This show has now ended its run at Brighton Festival