Review of the Chosen by Company Chordelia
The performance was at The North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford. I had never been to a performance in this theatre before but was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful building and the friendly staff.
The Chosen, was a dance performed by six dances, a mix of men and woman set to natural sounds and classical music. The lighting was subdued other than an occasional spotlight highlighting one dancer. There was no talking but forced rhythmic heavy breathing which expressed the strength of the dancer’s movements.
It is hard to say if it was set in one particular period of time, as the dances costumes could have been from any time after the 1950’s, one man wore jeans and a lady wore a dress which could have been from around that time or after.
On the stage were six medium sized mirrored cubes. What the cubes represented was not explained, but they were not just props, they were an integral part of the performance. Their meaning was constantly changing. They could be chairs, buildings or have a more mystical meaning, such as heaven or the dances soul.
At first when the performance started, the dances were sat on the blocks, a loud heartbeat was played with natural sounds, the dances fell off and got back on again, perhaps illustrating how brief life is.
They were sat apart from each other and facing and falling forward, being more connected to the audience than they were with each other. However, they were connected by their experience of life and Immediate death but in this part of the dance they did not even glance around to look at each other. Perhaps representing, that all though when we die, we can be surrounded by family and friends, the next journey after death is alone?
At one point two of the dances investigated the blocks and polished them to get a better look at themselves, other times the blocks were pushed away from themselves. At one point they were carried as if they were coffins of a loved one or precious boxes that contained all their earthly possessions.
In contrast to the times the dances appeared alone and self-absorbed, they interacted with each other, sometimes in loving and passionate ways, sometimes in mundane ways and other times anger or desperation.
There was brief portrayals of normality of family groups or friends watching a tv.
Groups of workers walking to work
One dance which stuck in my mind was a lady who was dancing in a fitful way, it was although she was depressed or out of control, then just as she was about to fall, a male dancer caught her and swept her up into his arms and they danced together. They lunged and grasped at each other, entwining their bodies, in a hapless way. It was as if they were ripping each other apart emotionally, giving happiness and grief in all the delicate layers of a relationship.
Most of the time the dances moved in time but not connected other than the sequence they danced, frantically dancing in a quick and stiff way or more poised and always inevitably dyeing.
As the performance moved on, the Erratic and fluid dance spread across the stage, which was mirrored by the blocks, which not only showed the dance but also the wonderful setting of the room, its exposed beams and red brick walls. The blocks were constantly being moved and lined up or stacked in different sequences. All the time the dancers moved, weaved in between each other and the blocks, set on there paths, which interacted or not with each other.
Then against this madness a chosen one, which was a different dancer each time, moved out of sequence with the others, the dancer either stood still looking at the audience or at the dances. The chosen one moved slower, in one case, a man pushed one of the mirrored blocks slowly and painfully across the stage. His face mirroring the pain of his effort which highlighted the fact that these performers were not just dances but were actors. In the later segments of the dance, my daughter and I noted that two of them, a man and a woman, were crying real tears.
One of the highlights for me was a dance between two men, who were portraying lovers. The energy of this male dance, wrapped in each other’s arms full of life and pulling and pushing at each other, tearing each other in some way. Perhaps more passionate because their love was not recognised by society at the time? and there for had an element of being secret and fragile by shortness of time. At the same time as their performance on the other side of the stage a male and female danced together, they had built the blocks in to a three high tower and the woman appeared to be dragging the man over the blocks by his neck, not in a violent way, just leading him, but he seamed helpless to do anything but to follow her whim. So hard to try and decipher this, and I am using my imagination here, perhaps the blocks resembled is career, perhaps she was his wife, mother or his boss. But as in all the depictions on life, however high he soared and followed her lead, he still died as she did.
I was struck by the valiant way the dances threw themselves down, depicting the instances of death. There where other scenes of lives turbulence, one showed two women fighting, and one being swung around by her hair.
Grieving was dotted in between the more energetic parts were again the dances interacted with there movements and eye contact. One dancer reaching out both hands in an offering to hold an invisible hand, perhaps of an audience member.
Stages of grieving, comfort given and received from an unseen source.
The dances made full eye contact with the audience, drawing them into the experience, as if saying, this is about you! This life is happening to you! This death will be yours!
Twice the mirrored blocks were pushed forward to the front of the stage, and although the dances were still dancing with them, I was captivated by watching the audiences faces in the blocks, as from the angle that I was sitting in, they seemed to perfectly frame one member of the audience in each. By chance they all appeared to be like myself a white middle-aged woman. They were not looking at themselves but seamed transfixed by the dance.
When it ended the audience clapped loudly and the dances bowed many times and looked happy and thanked the sound and production crew, who were amazing. I eavesdropped some of the audience’s reactions as they walked by and many expressed how moving it was, one younger lady even pressing her hand onto her heart in a dramatic way.
The dances were exceptional, and the performance was continual, with no intermission and I admired their stamina, and noted how covered in sweat they were from their efforts.
However, I was puzzled a lot by what the performance meant and wondered if I had missed something. I know that dance is a lot like a great painting, where the viewer brings as much to the interpretation and meaning to the image when they are looking at is from their own perspective and life experience as the painter wanted the viewer to see. But with this dance I think that there was so much to absorb, so much happening on the stage, so many deaths!
I think each dancer must have died about thirty times, and even the quiet times on the stage were the narrative ran deeper, it was very thought provoking. This is the first time I had ever seen a dance like this and I needed time to let it sink into my brain, I needed to sleep on it, walk in nature with my dog, before I could start to untangle what it meant to me and how I could explain it to you, as I had been asked to do so for the Leys News.
And on that walk this morning with my young dog chasing her tail, just for the fun of it, or because she could, and stopping to admire the old trees along the edge of the path, which were alive before me and will hopefully go on long after. I started to draw this altogether, the production is what it says on the tin it’s a dance about life, death and the passage of time and I think you should all go and see it if you get the chance and see what you make of it.
5 stars – Jane Yates Leys News. 2019