Let’s take a moment to consider that photo –‘Lunch atop a Skyscraper’ – of the builders sat on a girder taking their lunch break while they build the RCA Building in New York.
For me – if not for others – the reason that photo is so brilliant and beautiful and compelling is because of the absurd contrast between how happy, calm and confident the men are, while they look like they are only a gust of wind away from falling hundreds of feet towards the paving slabs of New York City. It was taken as a humorous publicity stunt, but the danger and daring it presents remains. It is the epitome of fearlessness, of what it means to see an opportunity – a once in a lifetime, privileged opportunity – and take it.
Let’s bear that photo in mind while we chat about SAFE, a dance piece choreographed by Zoie Golding and her all male company, Zoielogic. The piece is about masculinity, fragility, and the men who built the Empire State Building. It shows men who are bound together by the brotherhood of shared hard graft, using that teamwork to throw planks of wood between each other, to support each other as they climb the scaffolding and try their weight at balancing on wood propped against a platform. It shows us men who look as if they might be standing on the precipice of something spectacular…
…But never quite reach it. The performance at The Point in Eastleigh was the first of the tour, so I am inclined to allow for a little nervousness in the approach to jumping between planks of wood. But first night nerves do not account for limp legs and trailing arms – for movement that is not fully explored, neither in performance nor choreography. Now, I’m not saying that I wanted acrobatics and death defying stunts…but let’s refer back to the photo of the men on the girder. I sort of am.
For a piece to be titled ‘SAFE’, I don’t think I’m alone in expecting it to be the exact opposite of that. If it’s about masculinity, we want to see men at the extreme end of physical and emotional conquest. If it’s about men building one of the tallest buildings in the world, then show us them at the height of it, looking down at us with bravery and prowess and danger and vulnerability. And no, I’m not saying that the piece should be site specific. But again, to a certain extent, I sort of am.
Instead, there was a dull thud every time a dancer landed on the wooden boards that made up the stage, the most potentially exciting pieces of set were barely engaged with and often interesting little stories were happening between the characters, but the physical language between them was difficult to understand. And anyway, so much would be happening at once, so it was impossible to know what was story, and what was banal set building.
As soon as things seemed to be building, we were left quite literally with just the scaffolding, and none of the architecture. When a stack of planks of wood came out I thought, “Great, I wonder how many things you can do with a plank of wood!” only to see that the answer was a resounding “Not very much.” The most imaginative use was when the dancers lay the planks across each other and held them in a square, elevated to waist height, while one dancer hopped between them. This was kind of cool, and an interesting demonstration of the fragility and masculinity to which the piece allegedly purports. But this was one small moment in a 90 minute long piece.
The piece is littered with a handful of tiny moments wherein the dancers show us their true physical skill, and Zoie shows us that yes, she has latched onto an interesting concept. But otherwise, it drones on, with any sense of a discernible story left by the wayside leaving it clunky, shy and slow.
The main difference between this piece and the Lunch atop a Skyscraper photo is that after their lunch break, the men went back to work and built the building. This piece remains on its lunch break, with all of scaffolding, and none of the building.