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Globaleyes 2013

by Stuart Sweeney

March 13 and 15, 2013 -- Chickenshed, London, UK

Chickenshed, one of England's leading integrated dance theatre companies, regularly creates work based on social themes. Globaleyes was one of the first of these I experienced and Globaleyes 2013 is not just a revival, but features a much larger cast, including many from their Youth Company. In shifting from the primarily adult cast of the earlier version to a community-based cast alongside the adults, the Directors, Christine Niering, Jonathan Morton and Louise Perry have managed to maintain the high professional standards of the original.

Chickenshed create Gesamtkunstwerk (total theatre) combining many strands: design, lighting, music, drama and dance, to create often stunning productions. Globaleyes 2013 is no exception, with movement playing a vital role in a visual feast built around themes such as the environment, oppression, the chaos of urban life and the beauty of the natural world. The diverse themes are kept on track by the humanity of the production, and especially the focus on children. At regular intervals a solitary child appears to survey what is happening in the world around.

There are many memorable dance scenes choreographed by Christine Nearing together with the creative team. In Frantic – What more do you need? the hurly-burly of city living reaches a climax as a large group enters the stage from the side making a powerful image. In contrast, Breath provides meditative movement with white silky hangings from floor to ceiling, with projections of exquisite scenes from nature. In Parasite we see two couples harnessed back to back, tumbling round the stage and creating 8-limbed creatures in innovative choreography.

In an overtly political work such as this, there ought to be some controversy and for me this was provided by I Rise Up. Silhouetted figures in oriental poses morph into militant activists in burqas. My initial reaction was of unease to see stereotypical Muslim extremists, but Christine Nearing told me they had a different slant: the characters rising up against oppression, personified by some of the dancers wearing military helmets or cowboy hats symbolising Western aggression. Whatever the interpretation, the powerful, unison jumps to a driving score made powerful images.

Music is an important element throughout, and Dave Carey's tuneful score features instruments from far and wide including the Chinese Urhu, a 2-stringed bow instrument and the M'bira or thumb piano from Southern Africa. Graham Hollick's varied designs add to the visual strength of the production, topped off by Andrew Caddies' effective lighting.

The finale lasts a full 15 minutes or so, but never drags, giving hope with upbeat movement and a soulful final scene. I enjoyed Globaleyes 2013 so much I went back to see it a second time. With only around 10 performances, there is clearly scope for a second run, but it deserves to be seen by a wider public. There are too many people who haven't realised what a treasure London has in Chickenshed.

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