Dear Devil is the latest Wild Card event at Sadler’s Wells, on this occasion curated by Eva Recacha, a Spanish artist and choreographer now based in London.
Her intention was to explore themes of “authority, power, subjugation and rebellion” through the course of the evening. She divides this up into four parts: The Dictator, The Other and The Rebel followed by a postshow talk. The Dictator takes place outside the auditorium in the form of two films. The first, looping on a screen in the corridor as you enter the Lilian Bayliss foyer, is Specimen 1, a work in progress choreographed by Recacha herself in which Hamish MacPherson replicates the physical gestures of Adolf Hitler’s 1934 speech at the Nazi Party Congress in Nurenberg (taken from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will film).
Removed from its political context, the viewer gains a distance from the gestures and it’s possible to see them as their own particular, emotive choreography. Without language, we get that the figure is trying to persuade us of something. At times authoritative, at times comical. It’s one idea, of course, but a promising one and sets the tone for the other part of The Dictator in the Kahn Lecture Theatre. Here, we’re in the more selfreferential environment of an audition process. Dog Kennel Hill Project’s Diabolic is a short film in which there’s no doubt who the dictators are. Henrietta Hale and Rachel Lopez de la Nieta put the dancers through their paces with increasingly humiliated demands. Here, it is the removal of context for a demand (“pretend you’ve been shot in the lack”) and the lack of emotional care towards the performers that is being sent up with both warmth and wit. It’s a bit like watching the dance world version of The Office.
I do have a concern that this is work made for a dance audience, an internal conversation that doesn’t necessarily reach out into the wider world though, which seems all the more strange given the universality of Recacha’s themes. There’s a bigger debate around this, particularly in relation to The Place which supported almost all the pieces presented here.
Any concerns of internal conversations I might have had with Diabolic though were laid aside immediately by Colin, Simon and I’s A Separation, the strongest piece of the evening by some way and one of the most vivid pieces of theatre I’ve seen for some months. It’s the first piece we see in the theatre itself and forms its own section (The Other). After it, we have an interval. This is smart curating from Recacha, as the intensity of the piece means that nothing can really follow on from it directly. I’m reluctant to describe what happens because I hope that it goes on and has a further life and that lots of people get a chance to see it.
It begins with Simon Ellis walking on stage and looking straight at the audience. Ellis looks like an earnest vicar or a school teacher and has soft, gentle Kiwi accent. I’m not going to repeat what he says to us here. Just imagine what’s the worst thing a white man can say to an audience… He then plays around with our discomfort, makes us accept his presence there, plays with our passivity. What are we accepting? Is this acceptable? Is it ironic? Colin Poole is the other half of the company. He’s black. Does this make it okay for Ellis to use the language he does, to say the things he does, to do the things he does? The piece teases us with the escape routes: he’s dancing to black music, the other dancer’s black, he made this too, etc. Poole’s immobility throughout though acts as a barrier to this. It crosses a line and makes confront something horrific. Again, I won’t give away why I didn’t applaud at the end. I have questions around whether or not it was right for Ellis to ask for applause. If it crosses the line, if it goes too far, then it should do because it’s only by going too far that we know what the limits are.
Still reeling from A Separation, I appreciated the smart conceit of Recacha’s own The Wishing Well (a finalist at last year’s The Place Prize) and its flawless solo execution by Martha Pasakopoulou. The piece is a kind of duet between one dancer and a voice.
Like Specimen 1, it evokes the singular, dangerous visions of twentieth century politics and takes them out of their context. In this case, the songs and iconography of socialism are tinged with more than a hint of nostalgia and there’s a sense of loss both for ideology and for childhood that was memorably evoked for me.
The last piece is Dog Kennel Hill Project again. Exorcising, in their usual off-centre way, is mischievous and funny and has the spirit of punk running through its veins. The piece is “inspired by esoteric purification rituals”. The space is cleansed through smoke and Ben Ash gets out a whip and starts lashing it towards the audience like a crazed ringmaster. It felt like a step in the direction towards something larger. Perhaps it’s always going to be a mess but needs to be a larger mess. At one point, they read out a scathing review of their own work at one point, which reminded me of Bikini Kill’s Thurston Hearts the Who. For this reason, I’m going to stop writing about it unless they start reading this out in their next show.
It’s absolutely one of the great charms of Wild Card that there is space for a curator to be esotetic and eccentric in some of their decisions. Recacha doesn’t disappoint. After the final piece, she comes on stage and announces that every seat has a unique number and that she’s going to pull out some numbers at random from a tombola and give a “special prize” to one lucky audience member. She takes her time with this ritual. When a number is finally arrived at, she gives that bemused audience member an envelope stuffed with cash. Then, as we’re all leaving we get given a toy gun with a toy sheriff’s badge to accompany it. The programme contains a word from the curator:
You are cowboy in the shadows
I have grown to appreciate you
Though we are never given an explanation as to the significance of our parting gift, perhaps as part of the ritual, we are each given something to protect us from the devils that can destroy but that we cannot do without. It might be too much to ask for a fully realised world here but there is a sense that we have been through a kind of ritual together and it therefore feels right to be given something to ward off the spirits on the path ahead.
Eva Recacha premieres her new work Easy Rider on 25th & 26th April at The Place