The main stage at Tramway is covered in soil. Emerging from the dark, a slow-moving body enters, followed by another, then another, and another. As the lights rise, a fifteen-strong party begins, performed entirely in slow-motion, under shifting lights and pulsing beats. A night of euphoria, togetherness and violence, Crowd is a spectacular and powerful performance from renowned choreographer Gisèle Vienne, and an exhilarating instalment as this year’s Dance International Glasgow.
As this chaotic dance party unfolds, audiences are invited to compose their own experience and make choices about who to follow. The slowed down, stylised movements make this an easier task, yet such is the overwhelming number of bodies on stage, it is impossible to follow everything. Moreover, the narrative journeys of these individuals don’t follow storytelling rules – or at least, the reader is denied their resolution. Instances of emotional, physical and sexual violence occur, happening quickly and out of sight, before the individuals involved are swiftly subsumed back into the party, the night, the crowd. What is in no doubt hugely significant to these individuals – with presumably significant emotional and psychological impacts – is unseen. The seeming ordinariness and frequency of these experiences, and their co-existence alongside and within relationships of friendship, intimacy and care, is as uncomfortable as it is accurate. Crowd is a masterful piece of storytelling, making possible a layering of narratives and readings that would be impossible to achieve in spoken-text-led, narrative-led theatre.
Each audience member’s experience of Crowd, their composition, will be entirely unique. This makes Crowd a really fun piece of work to see with a pal. Empowering its spectator also implicates you in ethical considerations, and reveals your assumptions, prejudices, dominating concerns and histories. I can readily identify each performer, filling in the vague outlines of their character (their dress sense, dancing style, proximity to others, etc.) with my own experiences. The openness of Crowd, how carefully malleable its structure is, is one of its greatest strengths – ensuring a personal and affective experience.
Similarly, while the work is predominantly concerned with EDM culture, as evidenced by the costumes and music, the work is porous enough to be read in different ways. I grew up in a small village. EDM wasn’t on the menu but people would drag speakers into the forest. Watching Crowd, these experiences came to mind. Read through an ecological lens, it’s noticeable how much damage this party causes. When they finally leave, people’s jeans and bodies are stained with mud and dirt, and the earth they leave behind looks like a battleground, strewn with bottles, cans, coats and rucksacks. The night, the party, is just one more skirmish between the ecological reality and human desires for their own individual or collective triumph; for the good night, for the victory, to transcend.
On the surface, Crowd is a fairly simple idea with a fairly basic choreography. It’s a party, slowed down. Yet watching Crowd is shockingly exhilarating and pleasantly meditative. As the slow, deliberate movements fuse with a soundscape of essential EDM from the last forty years, rhythms change, people move at different rates, then occasionally synchronise. Everything flows, the work seems to tumble out of itself. It’s difficult to separate it into parts, chapters and sequences. The mechanisms and rehearsal which underpin this work, as well as the performers’ technical ability and the choreographer’s talent, are invisible. Crowd is seamless. Watching on, you drift in and out, losing all sense of where you are, and how long it has been since the party started.
Towards the work’s end, several of the performers somehow emit haze from their jackets. It rises slowly, twirling towards the ceiling and obscuring the dancer’s head and arms. They appear like spirits, ghosts or angels, leaving the world behind. The trick is simple, yet the results are profound. This is the appeal of Crowd, a piece of work that is refreshingly bold, daringly complex and willing to attempt the spectacular.
Crowd played at Tramway as part of Dance International Glasgow on October 16th. More info here.