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Meniscus at The Playground

by on 30 November 2019

Proximity Switches

Meniscus at The Playground

by Ghost and John

Ghost and John et al, at Rambert, South Bank, London until 29th November

Review by Nick Swyft

The Rambert Company’s The Playground is a series of monthly events in which professional artists of any discipline can come and explore, collaborate, create and observe. This event was to celebrate the two year anniversary of The Playground.

For those used to seeing ballet performed in a theatre on a stage while sitting in an auditorium, this is a radical departure. It took place in three studios at Rambert’s premises on the South Bank, one of these being dedicated to an exhibition of figurative art. To illustrate the experience, the first event in the Linden Studio was a dance entitled Inside-Out by Ruth Mair Howard-Jones. For this, and all the performances, audience members could either sit on one of the seats or on the floor, or simply stand around the studio. The dancers were already in the studio, limbering up – no formal entries or exits – which in itself was interesting to watch. This performance was exciting and uplifting. One of the dancers in particular (Viktorijia Sibakovskyte) clearly knew what she was doing, bringing expression and enthusiasm to the piece. These are, after all, professional dancers, and it was exciting to be so close to them, to hear them breathing and see their faces clearly as they worked.

There were no programmes provided. Instead pieces of paper were blu-taked to the walls outside the studios, the intention being that if you wanted a wanted to know about the pieces, you photographed them on your phone.

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This only became clear at the start of the final performance, Meniscus by Ghost and John. At the beginning, John called the audience forward, (getting us up off our seats!) to explain what was going on. He told us that it was about the dangerous global situation in terms of the environment and politics. Choreographers Ghost and John both hail from Hong Kong, so they know what they are talking about. Clearly, not printing programmes was one small but concrete gesture towards keeping CO2 levels down!

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As John was explaining this, the dancers started moving amongst the audience. Each one had a QR code printed on their forearm, and we were invited to scan these with our phones, bringing the idea of proximity to the dancers to a whole new level. The QR codes directed us to websites which showed various works of art and texts, relevant to the message. Scanning a person’s arm was an intimate experience almost to the point of intrusiveness, and while it might be appropriate to thank them for enabling you to do that, such thanks generally went unacknowledged, since the performers were, after all, in character.

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There then followed a series of dance sequences, some of which were very energetic, and even presented potential trip hazards! These brought the experience of proximity to the performers to a whole new level, with none of the restrictions that normally apply to conventional performances. For example photography was not only allowed, but it was actively encouraged. This was refreshing in a world generally tied down by rules and regulations.

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All the dancers wore white, reminiscent of a religious cult. Religious cults rarely end well and such environmental movements as Extinction Rebellion, whose sentiments this performance supported, are generally keen to avoid that imagery. Greater individuality might have been more appropriate, although this may well have made the dancers indistinguishable from the audience.

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This was created as an interactive multimedia experience, and in this it more than succeeded. Indeed it might be argued that the sheer breadth of the experience detracted from some of the message.

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Other performances of note were Inside-Out, as already mentioned, and +44 7531 by Joe Adams, featuring the accomplished classical dancer, Sophia Clark. This was an intense and atmospheric piece, in which again the audience were encouraged to gather round in a small circle adding to the intensity. Firefly by Liam Francis was an interesting piece too, in which the two dancers were blindfolded, working with cues. There may have been others, but it was impossible to see every performance as they took place simultaneously in separate studios.

The whole event was innovative and exciting and further events are thoroughly recommended.

Nick Swyft
November 2019

Photography by Dominic Farlam

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