Reviews Dance Published 24 September 2011


Queen Elizabeth Hall | Southbank ⋄ 21st September 2011

Prison break.

Christine Twite

Life behind bars. Photo: Ben Hodson

As the audience walk in to the Queen Elizabeth Hall three young men glower at them; they walk up and down, repetitively, in a shadowy space full of smoke.

Jean Abreu’s INSIDE takes as its theme the male experience of incarceration. Abreu’s choreography is a brilliant showcase for the abilities of the five young male dancers. They manage to be at once intimidating and vulnerable, powerful and yet somehow helpless. The most affecting moments are those when the whole company is used together, moving as one, like rag-dolls, their bodies completely given up to a power beyond their control. At other times the dancers try to speak; they shout and splutter but eventually each is stopped or trails off into silence.

Abreu is able to channel the dancer’s physical articulacy to create a real sense of constriction, which is in itself quite something. But at times the choreography loses its way and there are a number of clichéd sequences – such as a man making a noose out of his cardigan in order to hang himself – which seem strangely out of keeping with the rest of the piece. The manner in which self-harm is depicted, through repeated facial slapping, also becomes wearisome after a while. These moments, when Abreu explores the experience of incarceration in an almost too literal way, only undermine the subtleties of the rest of the piece.

Better in this regard is the set design, by Dan Jones, which uses vertical rails at the back of the stage to hint at imprisonment without labouring the point. The set is made good use of by the choreography; these rails become a refuge to hide behind, either with aggressive intent or as a means of protection. But the decision to keep the performance space opened out, with the sides of the stage clearly visible, does not seem in keeping with the sense of claustrophobia generated by the piece.

Abreu constructs a real coup-de-theatre in the reveal of ‘math-rock’ band 65daysofstatic, whose silhouettes you are gradually able to pick out behind the dance space as the piece begins. The clever integration of the musicians within the choreography of the piece also proves a highlight of the evening. Playing live, they switch between aggressive, ear-drum blowing rock to passages of slower, more contemplative tones. The dancers’ movements do not just mirror these states, they are often chillingly at odds with it. As the music swells the bodies of the dancers appear increasingly fragile, as if they are being bent by the force of the noise – they almost seem to disintegrate; similarly, during the quiet passages the brute force of these men is all the more overt and the audience can hear each intake of breath. While the piece as a whole can feel unrefined in places, it contains elements of overpowering beauty which will remain with you for a long time.

Read Mark Farrand’s thoughts on dance and incarceration.


Christine Twite

Christine is a theatre academic, producer and project manager. She is currently researching a PhD in Contemporary Theatre Audiences with Queen Mary, University of London.

INSIDE Show Info

Choreography by Jean Abreu

Original Music 65daysofstatic


Running Time 1 hr 10 mins (no interval)



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