Review – Running at convention

2013-07-06 11:53

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It is no simple task to write about the visual aspects of Nicola Elliott’s latest work.

It is energetic, the dancers are incredible athletes, the accompanying music is masterfully executed – but the movement isn’t easy on the eye. It is as discordant as the music becomes as the piece unfolds. And this is how she grapples with the issues in Run!

Elliott is an award-winning choreographer and director who makes dance theatre, rather than dance.

I admit to having had to pick the brains of a dance fundi to understand the movements, but Elliot’s message is as clear as if she’d shouted it in words. She uses movement to explore the way the feminine is perceived, how it is expected to be and she completely subverts that.

The beauty of conventional dance moves is replaced with running and with movements more associated with sport than dance. It is also a male domain and in some ways Run! reclaims this space too.

The piece’s central theme is about reclaiming space and questioning the status quo. The four dancers at one point test the boundaries of their stage – pushing at the curtains draped down the sides and back of the auditorium and leaning aggressively into the audience to lay claim to the space.

It is symbolic, perhaps, of taking back the female space as well as the right to write what the feminine likes.

It also explores ordinary movements and interrogates what makes them ordinary and why they shouldn’t be redrawn extraordinarily.

The dancers “run” at the preconceived notions of society. The piece runs at convention and at the conventions of dance too. Why should dance be full of pirouettes? Why should the bodies move in a prescribed way?

These are the questions that the piece puts to the audience too. Elliott’s choreography goes so far as to question the movement constraints she is using to question the societal constraints.

The dancers wear costumes that are familiar, but with a twist – they hint at a baby doll dress and tennis whites. A

ll the dancers are dressed in outfits befitting the feminine, the “lady” – then they precede to not “act like ladies”, to again subvert the expected.

The vagina, which, because of society’s obsession with it must also always be reclaimed for personal use only, is represented in Run! in the red underwear the dancers wear.

It is jarring after the chaste whiteness of the beginning, to be confronted with the vagina in such a crude way, but then society’s treatment of the vagina, too, is almost always crude.

The audience, unsurprisingly, laughed uncomfortably when presented with just the representation of the female genitalia, in a piece that spent so long reclaiming space as neutral it’s a shock to be confronted again with the sex of the issue.

Run! isn’t easy viewing. It is a piece of dance theatre that requires brain engagement and active interpretation. Elliott doesn’t let up on the audience and demands attention. Run! won’t find a broad audience, but in the contemporary dance space it asks compelling questions.

» Run! is on at Transnet Great Hall at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown today at 2.30pm and 7pm, and tomorrow at 12.30pm.

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