Gen Z was on track to come of age in line with low unemployment rates and a (relatively) robust economy- a dream scenario which has been dismantled across the course of less than a year. Lump in confinement to uni halls, or a restricted roaming ground at mum and dad’s, and even Millennials feel bad for young people right now. Calderdale’s 16-25s spill out into the open square of Halifax’ Piece Hall in direct response to this dire situation, in this open air dance piece. The Aftermath is a response in progress from a stifled generation, which whilst brief shows promise for a more rallying cry in future projects.
Anna Holmes and Sam Ford’s choreography is a wild, tonally dissonant reflection of the tumult caused by Coronavirus. The ensemble switches at the drop of the hat from playful bounding to being bound to the ground, crushed under an invisible force. There’s a constant fight to gain freedom of movement, a collective effort to return to those carefree moments of innocent play. Jonathan Deering’s score is at its most wistful here too, those kind of joyful strings that accompany scenes in period dramas where characters fly kites and are happy they aren’t dead. It was once a far cry from the modern day but now this comparison feels depressingly apt: there’s little for this ensemble to be thankful for, save those moments of humble joy. This is the key, repeated motif that Anna Holmes’ monologue eventually demands outright: what they want is time to be young, asking permission of parents that they might be children for a little while again.
The piece incorporates several news bulletins, podcasts, older voices speaking with authority if not accuracy about young people’s tendency of go out clubbing, their culpability when it comes to high R-levels. In contrast, there’s no space for a spoken response for most of this twenty-minute piece. A voice constantly starts to speak, another tries to join in- both are cut off. There’s a stuttering, stammering quality to the broken audio, a reluctance or outright inability to respond in kind against the widely broadcast aspersions. This stifled atmosphere is ready to slice open with a knife, and creates a sense of oppression even in the open performance space.
Another oppressive force is the editing of this performance. It’s interesting that the original piece is performed with no audience (some passers-by in the periphery, an interesting case of the show being seen if not understood), and cut together in a style that’s actively resistant of the stage to screen recording tradition. No wide shots here: videographer Aaron Howell focuses close in on individual performers, pans the piece from within the centre of the action. This has an unreliable hit rate in terms of appreciating the overall piece. It focuses our attention on the key performers, the professional dancers in particular, and here offers an opportunity to fully take in Daniel Phung and Soul Roberts’ duet. However, there’s an overall picture that’s lost from not being able to see the ensemble in full at any given time. We lose the sense of scale here, which feels counter to the piece’s argument that far more young lives have been affected by the pandemic than we realise or care to admit.
Holmes’ monologue finally plays in full, the voices no longer repressed but concise and poetic. There’s a vague outline of hope within the despair and righteous anger, as well as a brief dalliance with the idea of generational attitudes. The line in particular that stands out is “Inside we are weeping/But we are bound by Yorkshire grit”. Despite the regional expectation of stiff upper lips, keeping calm and carrying on, there’s an admission of the deeper pain from this new generation. It feels like a necessary instruction to the wider public, an invitation to cast off that veneer of having it together. Sure, it’s bleak, but by acknowledging the problems inherent to valorising stoicism there’s a glimmer of starting to solve it.
The Aftermath is available to watch online here until the end of the year.