TutuMucky begins with sounds in darkness – an unnervingly loud, rhythmic cacophony of rasping music, grating metal and dripping water. Then, in semi-darkness, we can just make out human forms, the dancers, sitting bent over, their black and earthy coloured tutus creating unfamiliar shapes in the low light. It might be horror, or science fiction, a grave dirty dystopian scene, where people have become like feral creatures or infected by a disfiguring disease. The strange shapes rise, assume their human forms and dance – spasmodic, rhythmic ballet and hip hop blended into an explosive and exciting contemporary style. Our eyes are adjusting to the gloomy landscape and we hear snatches of the familiar within the music, the odd word in French and English, number counts as in a classical ballet lesson. Gradually we have the dreadful realisation that this is not another world, but our own.
In this first work with a company outside his London-based dance collective Far From the Norm, choreographer Botis Seva challenges us to see the unseen, to remember the nature of chaos underlying order. Early in the piece the group of ten dancers move towards us quickly in formation with tiny rapid steps, arms forward and curved as in first position, as if daring the audience to keep watching. Seva takes us to the edge of an abyss and with our senses overwhelmed, we topple in among the dancers to a landscape of human torment and struggle. Here, beating out numbered time turns into manic self-flagellation, relationships seem suffused with abuse. We find ourselves within the struggle, longing for light and straining to grasp any semblance of order, of remembered calm.
The work surprises with an extraordinary energy and vigour, reminding us of the resilience of the human spirit. Amongst all the chaos, there is hope. There are moments of outstanding beauty – a flash of white light bathing and illuminating the curved foetal forms of the dancers at rest, and the sheer beauty of the human form picked out in solos and in stunning formations. There are small acts of human kindness – a hand held, a character lifted up by a neighbour, and seeming determination and persistence in the face of despair.
Emma Jones’ brilliant lighting creates an aptly unsettling backdrop and complements the rhythms of composer Torben Lars Sylvest’s music perfectly. The dancers’ bodies are often emphasised in relief, their bones and sinew a glaring reminder of our mortality. The dancers themselves are outstanding, their individual and collective performances superb. Their energy is breath-taking, as though emphasising limitless possibilities.
The blurring of the boundaries between classical ordered ballet, subversive hip hop, and the freedom of contemporary dance results in a celebration of creative expression which in itself is subversive and defies order. We are left with a paradox – without order there is chaos, yet in its extreme, order stifles individuality and punishes non-conformity. The work is deeply disturbing, but it reminds us not to be complacent. In these unsettling times, this is a timely reminder.
The Scottish Dance Theatre recently celebrated 30 years at Dundee Rep, and how lucky we are to have them. When artistic director Fleur Darkin introduced Dreamers and the world premiere of TutuMucky on Friday night, she suggested that themes for the evening might be growth and inspiration. We had just been treated to a fabulous and uplifting performance by the Scottish Dance Theatre’s Youth Company, Where I Belonged, a piece by Steven Martin about individuals being themselves coming together to create a sense of belonging. The wonderful Dreamers by Anton Lachky followed, with its exuberant joy in individuality but dark humour in caricature (previously reviewed on DURA). Combined, the three works were profoundly inspiring and reminded us that we might find hope in celebrating diversity and our common humanity. We look forward to more from Scottish Dance Theatre and these outstanding talents as they grow.
Josie Jules Andrews