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Dance Follow the Movement: August 16, 2023

Matthew Hawkins reviews of A Couple of Humans, Party Scene, You & Me, Woodhill

NINE years in the making, Whole Hog’s official version of Makoto Shinkai’s 2013 anime film is a love story based on the original Japanese “koi,” meaning love as a longing for someone in solitude rather than the later, Westernised idea of romance. The engaging story explores seven individuals living in the crush of a metropolis struggling to connect to those that are close to them. 

The “everyperson” inference in the work’s title does not fully summarise this pair’s idiosyncratic honing of a presentation that could be described as live sculpture or off-beat installation.

They feature low-tech knits and nylons. They deploy lavish live camera-work and deft illusion. They obsessively make a world of surprise and wonder that proffers universal access. 

Yet there is quizzical oddity in glimpses of corny (or is it human?) facial acting.

In Party Scene (★★★★), hosted by Thisispopbaby, one performer speaks of his preferred intoxicating substances while the others force a blur of his windmill-limbs. Another is manipulated through lewd arcs while keeping up a monologue on how meth-fuelled polyamity is actually quite a gas. 

We clock how the gay male brain juggles contradiction with practised ease and how the gay male body multitasks majorly; its amorphous pleasure arising out of forensically precise narcotic doses. 

Party Scene is pitch-perfect in its quality of sophisticated incoherence. Episodic play of crackling voicemails testify to a disorienting sense of real-life happening somewhere else while a heap of clean (if anonymous) loungewear is ever to hand: clearly, the hot wash is getting done while the hot boy (poignantly contoured by Liam Bixby) is getting overdone — as far as he can vaguely recall.

Dance-theatre (itself a triumphant form of multitasking) is a good medium with which to document this kind of neurological plate-spinning. 

In the eye of Party Scene’s hyperactive storm we see how reliably tumescent organs might peaceably bask in moist hospitality while brows pucker over smartphones cradled in miraculously free hands. 

Further vignettes surface. Tolerance is lavished on a boy who lapses into bonelessness. A dishevelled drag queen speaks of the dilemma of self-abuse arising from dearth of media images of men being non-violent; being romantic; being couched in legitimacy. 

Not that this tightly transgressive production has chosen to depict any such thing.

From a south Asian feminist perspective, emerges a choice to place two LGBTQ men in an arena of specific and honest passion in a show called You & Me (★★★★★). 

Amina Khayam dance respond to true-life stories of husbands unable to express a discovered sexuality for fear of bringing shame to their families. With radical inspiration, this creative team frame a depiction of male lovers in an intimate danced concert, with eloquent live tabla, cello and sitar. 

Vivid and ennobling, the generous Kathak moves of dancers Shyam Dattani and the western contemporary leanings of Giacomo Pini evolve entirely within the expression of their characters’ irresistible discovery, arriving at a key moment where difference is ritually discarded. 

The short run of You & Me gives way to the presentation of Bird, Amina Khayam Dance’s sister show that observes the stigma around domestic abuse through the same theatrical methods — with the same music and production team. 

This looks to be refreshing, alternative and surprising.

In Woodhill (★★★★), in an athletic trio from LUNG and The North Wall investigate prison deaths in the punishment industry that our incarceration facilities have become.

A fourth ghost-like catalyst moves among the trio before revealing himself as a subtly daemonic figure of retribution, potentially avenging, potentially fostering closure — though we see that easy resolution is impossible. 

There’s no reason to be vicious toward people who are incarcerated. There is meant to be rehabilitation. There is an abstract concept around locking other people up temporarily, for our safety and their own but what actually arises is a bloody-minded administration of a vicious idea. 

Somewhat against the grain of its persistent sensory assault, the incremental progression of LUNG’s Woodhill show enables the witness to perceive and evaluate. Afterward we are encouraged to sign an online petition if we are not utterly numbed. 

Verbatim testament is not merely appropriated here. Words are looped and woven around electronic beats and swells. In choreography by Alezxandra Sarmiento, the dancers’ lungs expand and crush, transferring the rhythm of traumatised speeches into awesome visceral moves.

These performers come to know the testament and the volatile topic on a life-changing cellular level.

I watched this happening. I couldn’t look away.

A Couple of Humans runs until August 20; Party Scene, Bird and Woodhill run until August 27; info: summerhall.co.uk.

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