Someone presses a battered Penguin classics of Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols into my hand. We’re standing in the Abbatoir adjacent to the Demonstration Room, where figures in executioner-black move across the space hung with chains and a central goring meathook. Directly below the meathook a pile of unstuffed innard feathers and material is writhing slowly, to the back of the space against the cracked tiles a man of tremendous physique bearing a hood is pulling chains with a kind of netherworld drugged methodicalness, while a cowled lean figure stood to our left observing like a deathly hawk. At first I thought the book was the finest press pack EVAH!, but it turned out it was a prop and a fellow-audience member had presumed I’d dropped it. I obviously have the look of someone that would drop a Nietzsche book; which I’ll take, even if that means clumsy and generally disturbing.
The post-it in the book was tucked into the part where Nietzsche takes bullet-points to Socrates: for pushing rationality to “absurd” degrees, for the polite tyranny of the dialectic, a pathological reverence of logic, the cowardly domination of the ‘the idea’. He would profoundly disagree with Socrates notion of our being trapped inside our bodies, the precursor to a Christian set of judgements, shame and perfectability, the lending of the body to some other regime of power – the experience of different(ly-abled, fat, thin, untouchable) bodies the world over. All of which seems like a platform against which this piece of writhing, graven, groaning physical theatre, begins to operate: where bodies are as likely to be stirring and twitching between life and death, as staggering, dragging their cadavers like zombies on a forced-march to nowhere.
Aberdeenshire-based Dudendance have used the two spaces keenly, the abbatoir becomes a kind of anti-operating theatre where the hench bulging guy pulls stuffing from the glassy-eyed girl creation, sinews pop, and the sense of the tremendous violence of creation, of life, is never far from those enormous elbows and ridged neck. The assortment of chains and murderous iron hook, the cracked enamel tiles, the dirt of years having overcome whatever clinical sterility belonged to this place, pour down into the mans hands and instruments as he does his work like the unlikely sunshine which streams through the peeling painted lantern.
In the Demonstration room we are looking at something earthier, deathly. The bodies are blackened, between charred and richly nutriented peat, blacked feet, gloves, balaclavas, shapeless plain cut clothes in blacks and greys. Bodies on the floor mingle with stuffed sacks like dismembered bedding, which take on a bizarre multi-limbed life as the dancers wrestle with them. It’s strange to see stuffing and lumps of material as a triumph of design, but here it is exactly that – deforming the bodies, giving them lumpen extensions. And all this plays out over the matte black floor, dusty and scratched, which hides and provokes the movements of the dancers. Elevated doors that let in sudden light are used to piercing effect, augmented by a smart lighting design which coheres with the tonal sludginess of the overall design. It is phantom-led, dark, and disturbing.
The symbolic moments revolve around the solid, barrel chested dancer whose buttocks are pronounced by more stuffing. He emanates steel and grace, and moves to snap a gun in half, and animate a giant superman, a slow motion balletic fight with a Superman of some kind, a towering stuffed superhero of wildly exaggerated shoulders and height, to the chirpy soul of You Can Still Stand Tall, which has followed salsa, which has emerged out of dulled minimal glockenspiel, itself coming from the ominous clanging chimes at the piece’s opening. Darkness and struggle gives way to violence in this gracefully hollow-eyed piece which never indulges itself in its puffing, Sadean, sensate universe, but makes a brutal play for your sensory world. Talking of Cicero’s Athens Nietzsche would approvingly relate that: “breeding of feelings and thoughts alone is almost nothing… one must first persuade the body.” It feels like this is a piece which explores the point at which the body has become too persuasive; a dark, hellish place of violence and Thrasymachian “might-is-right”. Perhaps, afterall, we need some ideas to prevent a tyranny of another kind.