Lia Rodrigues Companhia de Dancas
Such Stuff As We Are Made Of
Komedia, Brighton 12-18 May 2003
The promo posters for this Brazilian company tease with bare bodies but nakedness isn’t the issue, just a fact. The dancers are totally comfortable in their skin, as opposed to the audience. Before each section of the piece a dancer directs us to watch from a different part of the room. Sitting or kneeling on the floor in still silence you couldn’t be more aware of your own flesh and bones squishing, aching and seizing.
Dancers crouch or stand, unfolding and moulding their bodies at an excruciatingly slow pace. The atmosphere is one of intense concentration, staring at the flesh in front of us, straining to see every cell. Miniscule movements flow in slow motion like thousands of years of evolution before our eyes, metamorphosing from amoeba to human through a strange cycle of shapes and bodies.
One head appears on someone else’s shoulders, two bodies join and meld into one, limbs seem disjointed and every nobble, blemish, freckle and vein presents itself. Beige skin turns sanguine under pressure when blood rushes to ruched shoulders and vertebrae stretch the skin. Unfamiliar forms and crevices are revealed in an object we thought we knew, quite literally, like the back of our hand.
For a temporary eternity the seven dancers stand in a row. Then turn to face the side. Then the back. Our specimens are paraded fully formed, or perhaps lined up to meet a premature fate, because suddenly they drop to the ground, shaking in fits. The writhing bodies start to jolt across the floor, penetrating the audience and ending piled up and discarded against the wall. Images of mass graves come to mind and this is the first taste of the dramatic turn ‘Such Stuff’ is about to take.
Part two. Having dealt with the physical, it’s time to see what other stuff we are made of. Fully dressed now, a woman jerkily whirls through the standing crowd, looking us in the eye, brushing against bodies. She chants: ‘Iraq’, ‘Congo’, ‘September 11’, ’Always Coca Cola’, ‘Make Love Not War’, ‘Just Do It’, ‘Saab’, ‘Have a break have a Kit Kat’ . All slogans of our recent lives – words that have been thrust into our consciousness. Human creations and human destruction from the benign to the atrocious. This performer turns empty statements into loaded questions. Just like she is turning the body – merely a mass of particles – into a political weapon.
Following the first part of the show (essentially intense navel gazing) you realise we can’t ponder our physical presence eternally. It helps to have rules, routines and purpose. Next the dancers square-off a stage area with tape. Now there are parameters, there is order, and for the first time, music. A pounding regular pulse makes slogans and violent movements easier to palate. The previously unbound dancers bounce in a military drill and set out martial arts punches in strict time. Someone reads a list of basic human rights. But it’s not an entirely peaceful protest.
The rousing drum induces fervour, the dancers’ glowing eyes issue a challenge. There’s no time between the beats for discussion, it’s a primal reaction and impossible to step out of line. Their voices are asking for peace but their bodies say power. It’s thick in the air that the drive for freedom always involves violence as one dancer thrusts forward a ‘V’ sign saying ‘peace’ and another chants ‘Hamas’.
Their efforts advance with increasing abandon – singing and leaping in anger, desperation and righteousness. Every element is a cliché but the force behind the sentiment makes it stirring stuff. It might be their sheer conviction that lets each action transcend it’s trite associations. This show wouldn’t work in a large theatre, or on video. You need the dancers’ intense presence, to feel them breathing and gasping and sweating.
And it’s the dancers that make it work, they convince us to feel what they feel, to join their ranks, by pure force of will. It isn’t our decision, you could say. We were just acting on orders.