Pros: Funny, witty, and beautifully performed
Cons: A couple of sections felt too long
Perhaps it’s a cliché, but they do say the English love to talk about the weather. However, they’re not so keen on discussing sexual matters, so Amy Bell’s pairing of these themes in The Forecast might seem a little unusual at first. It works beautifully. Over the course of an hour she navigated issues around gender, identity and sexuality the way one might travel though high winds and stormy seas. From the chaos and confusion of adolescence (for part of the piece she sported a dance costume she wore as a child) to discos, dance training, and haircuts, the material is both personal and relatable.
Every detail had been considered. The chattering audience gasped as we were plunged into a sudden blackout at the start of the piece, as if the power had been cut during a storm. Bell appeared onstage in a pink boiler suit, and as the house lights came back up she addressed the audience directly. Text is frequently a feature of Bell’s work – with a keen eye for the absurd, she often speaks to the audience while dancing. A technically very accomplished performer, she moved through a kaleidoscope of gender-based, clichéd body positions, which posed questions about how women’s bodies are viewed and labelled. Referencing the gestures of a weather woman, her physical articulations at times challenged and questioned what she was saying – never has the word ‘woman’ seemed so sharply funny.
She collaborated with musician and composer Jamie McCarthy for the piece, whose sweeping, drone-like chords take inspiration from cloud formations. Their epic, richly textured tones added weight and lent gravitas to sections which seemed visually bizarre. Jeans, a mullet-wig, and nipple-tassels all featured, but not for shock or comedy value. As a queer woman, Bell is questioning why non-binary women are less visible in dance and proposes a re-examination of expectations and assumptions about what it means to dance in a female body. In one of the funniest sections, a woman’s voice spoke soothingly through what could have been a ballet training sequence, except it combined dance terms with LGBTQ vocabulary, and the wide range of descriptive terms used in gay culture. Bell moved effortfully, contorting herself, and at times looked questioningly at the audience. Bi-curious back-bend, anyone? It was funny and witty, although I think that Bell had her optimal audience of dance-savvy and culturally literate patrons at The Place, and it’s possible other audiences wouldn’t get the joke so readily.
Hetain Patel’s clever projected animations supported the themes of the work beautifully. Do we project what we expect to see onto women? Perhaps, but if women continue to move, we will effect change. The piece ended with Bell tenderly caressing the empty air to which she had given centre stage. Gently, she backed away, leaving the audience watching an empty space, filled with haze. It was a strident call to arms conveyed with the lightest of touches. Watch this space – new ways of imagining women in dance are on the horizon.
Author, director, choreography and performance: Amy Bell
Sound and music: Jamie McCarthy
Animation and dramaturgy: Hetain Patel
Lighting design and production management: Lucy Hansom
Creative consultant: Peggy Olislaegers
Box Office: 020 7121 1120
Booking Link: https://www.theplace.org.uk/buy-tickets/195170
Booking Until: This play closed on 7 March 2018.