Brainchild of artistic director Robby Graham, Southpaw Dance Company is building its style by adding contact and contemporary influences to their hip hop and breakdance roots, but they are also on a mission to dispel with the notion that breaking is for show only: as a result all their pieces center around loaded if arguably somewhat generalised topics. The two performances presented in a double bill as a part of Spring Loaded at The Place are no exception. In twenty short minutes Riots deals with the many social injustices leading to what’s perceived as a global riot phenomena; dealing with the pitfalls of recreational drug use, Men on a Mission is only slightly less ambitious.
Because it’s determined to cram such a broad topic into a very short time frame, Riots has no choice but to rely on a stage language that’s easy to understand but not particularly intricate or intriguing. Performers in gray suits that invoke images of both prisons and concentration camps, flashing lights, tying up and an adequate voice at the very beginning of the show informing us that ‘the system is broken’, all feature. What the piece doesn’t manage to find the time for – and how could it – is elaboration of any kind. Instead it puts forward a statement on how oppressive everything is, without really caring to challenge that notion or expand on the whys and the hows. Composition-wise this translates into a decision to subdue most of the performance, leaving it to develop almost in slow-motion, in darkness broken by flashlights, so the crescendo of the group sequence comes across ever so louder. Glimpses of ideas that could have potentially gone past the general notion stage are there: Riots attempts to use light as a means of expression rather than illustration, and never comes close to prescribing meaning to dance styles. Overall however, it simply attempts to paint too large of a picture in too small of a frame – and that inevitably leads to a blur of grand strokes.
Men on a Mission on the other hand professes to using its soundtrack to establish the universe the piece inhabits – the murky internal underworld of both the high and the inevitable low drugs induce. Built around a distinctly Tarantino-esque playlists, the piece gives off a dark, trashy and violent hue. The internal turmoil comprised of ecstasy, paranoia and spurts of energy that fade into numbness, crashes against the public peer-pressure and as drugs work their magic, others become a combative and cruel enemy. Still, it’s hard to know if Men on a Mission would so clearly be about recreational drugs were it not for the programme notes spelling it out. Where Riots compromises complexity for the sake of getting a broad message across, Men on a Mission makes assumptions about the connotations of its language: while Tarantino certainly doesn’t shy away from portraying drug-use, he is perhaps more associated with a celebration of extreme, gory violence. Take away the authors’ direction on how to read the piece and Men on a Mission suddenly becomes much more susceptible to interpretations and associations. Breaking away from a clique, group structures that don’t tolerate abandonment, loneliness and seclusion as a self-induced punishment, all get a frenzied interpretation in this performance but could all be cut and paste into Riots, without seeming out of place or context.