Pros: This show really takes the audience on a journey.
Cons: Rain would have been a definite con.
It is not by accident that 100 or so paying punters, six dancers, a couple of musicians and a front of house team convene in an empty car park on a Saturday night. Yet Still House, the company behind Of Riders and Running Horses, have created a theatrical experience that feels totally spontaneous and organic. We are at the Withdean Stadium, a sports complex in Brighton. Despite being only a couple of miles from the town centre, the neighbourhood is eerily quiet and we intrepid theatre-goers are the only people on the street.
The car park is a large and rather bleak, fenced-in space, furnished with some freestanding lights and a small music tent. But folding stools are handed out, and within minutes the audience has calmly, without very obvious direction, framed its own stage and shrunk the focal area to a cosy square. As the sky turns pink behind the music tent, Sam Halmarack walks on and shatters the peace with a loud and abrasive song that wakes the dancers and brings them out of their hiding places in the front row.
The six young women dancers are a refreshingly diverse group styled to look very normal, albeit in a pretty funky way. You wouldn’t be surprised to find this lot outside a Soho bar on a Friday evening, after a hard day’s work at the ad agency. There is also something of the city in the way that they dance. It’s a small space, and they weave in and out, sometimes mirroring each other, sometimes doing their own thing, sometimes landing right up close to the audience. Much of the time their facial expressions suggest purpose and absorption, but then two dancers will brush past each other and exchange a grin. It’s evocative of a crowded street where pedestrians are jostling for space, focused on following their own path, but occasionally swept up in a mass migration across the lights. There is camaraderie in the interplay between the dancers and with the audience, there is humour and vigour in the choreography.
After that abrasive opening, the music becomes much less confrontational. There are funky bits and drum ‘n’ bassy bits, but there’s a drive and urgency throughout which finds a response in the relentless movement of the dancers, in their energy and athleticism. During the various solo passages the other dancers take their seats, panting, in the audience. But then without warning, prompted by some trigger in the music, they jump back into the action. Everything happens in a fluid and seemingly spontaneous way; like a flock of starlings, the logic is clear only to an insider.
The show is timed to start at dusk and finish in darkness. As the performance ends the dancers start to pull audience members onto the stage to join in. Fifty minutes earlier, in the peaceful light of a suburban evening, we’d have stayed riveted to our folding stools. But now the music is vibrating through the floor, darkness has softened the edges of the built environment, and suddenly it feels thrillingly like being at a little impromptu rave. An exhilarating end to a really charming and surprising evening.