Pros: Breathtakingly good dancers tackle movingly personal subject matter.
Cons: Rather serious at times. Some material would benefit from cutting and tightening.
Sweetshop Revolution’s fourth full-length dance-theatre work is timely and brave. It aims to explore love, sexuality and relationships from a female perspective and features an all-female cast of five dancers. Open a newspaper or turn on the radio: stories of sexual abuse, exploitation and harassment are everywhere. Invariably featuring men taking advantage of positions of power, they are as depressing as they are distressing. In this context,
Bursting onto the stage in sparkly dresses they strutted, twerked and shimmied in unison like a girl band in a music video. They made direct eye contact with the audience and we felt implicated in their objectification whilst at the same time included in their fun. It was a fine line and they knew it. As the stage darkened, dancers changed into defiantly unglamorous t-shirts and jogging bottoms and their movements become more personal and organic. To an evocative pulsing soundtrack, the women danced a gorgeous pelvis-led sequence, their movements fluid and low to the ground. It looked earthy and real. Not ‘sexy’ but powerfully female. I really wanted more of this – an exploration of fully embodied femaleness, in all its humour, messiness, vitality and strength. However, as the piece went on moments of joy and humour were thin on the ground. Tenderness was often background to more aggressive duets and trios. Motifs of face grabbing, head-shaking and fingers shoved into mouths referenced the worryingly ubiquitous world of hardcore pornography. A pair of pants with pubic hair painted onto them drew some titters, but again, pubic hair is only a big issue amongst women now because of pornography. Sexuality happens in the brain, not at the waxing salon and this costume felt like a superficial visual joke to me.
The cast were thrillingly good dancers and the truthfulness and courage of their performances was striking. Rambert graduate Tania Dimbelolo was a revelation – her solo was a cry of fury, sorrow and exaltation which moved me to tears. Laban trained Flora Grant delivered the laugh-out-loud punchline to an intimate monologue with a deft touch. All were in their early twenties and I couldn’t help but conclude – somewhat sadly – that this was part of the reason for the heavy and ponderous quality of the material. These are women who have only recently emerged from adolescence and their sexuality is nascent. The content of the piece – predominantly authored by the dancers – was concerned with the difficulties they are experiencing in negotiating their sexuality and relationships in an image-obsessed, pornography-saturated culture. As the headlines prove, the power dynamics between men and women remain thoroughly out of balance. There were moments when dancers dabbed the air, their bodies shuddering, accompanied by the sound of electric crackles from Andy Pink’s complimentary and inventive score. It reminded me of The Power, Naomi Alderman’s award-winning novel in which women suddenly discover they possess the ability to issue fatal electric shocks, with revolutionary consequences. One could feel from each of these women a seething rage and a (sexual?) frustration at the barriers they are forced to confront daily. Physically challenging movements tested the limits of their bodies, whilst duets both intimate and aggressive tested the boundaries of their relationships with one another.
The piece could do with some cutting and a cast with a wider age range might have provided more variety in how the subject matter was addressed. However, there were a wealth of ideas and many beautifully vivid images created with absolute conviction. A company and cast to follow with interest.
Created and Directed By: Sally Marie
Choreography: Sally Marie, Tania Dimbelolo, Flora Grant, Natacha Kierbel, Sandra Klimek and Pauline Raineri
Producer: Adam Towndrow
Booking Until: This show has now completed its run at the Hackney Showroom but continues to tour.