[author-post-rating] (3/5 Stars)
Sun is not a comfortable or easy thing to watch. Full advantage has been taken of the fact that they have access to a sound system so loud and pervasive that you can literally shake people in their seats. The music is intense, harsh, startling, with driving manic beats and changes and screeches like the cheap jump moments in the best of horror movies. There are timed screams from within the audience, the close and horrible sound of people being beaten and choking on blood; a lone dancer is viciously clubbed to the floor by a gang and some of the dancers scream and cry as they seem to wrestle against themselves and their furious dervish movements. But this discomfort is all part of the grand design of the piece, which ultimately confronts its audience with the difficult realities of the bloody histories of civilisation, of the piles of bodies our empires are built upon and the extortion and destruction required for us to live in comfort and be able to come to a theatre and consider the meaning of pieces of dance like this.
“It’s a simple story,” says the narrative over a repeated motif of cut-out sheep herded by wolves, tribespeople herded by white colonials, businessmen herded by hoodies: “A story of dark versus light – black versus white.” But separating the hunter from the hunted in this piece proves to be a trickier business than at first seems. Choreographer Hofesh Shechter is renowned for his work depicting an essential struggle between the restrictions of conformity and the expression of our inner desires, and in this piece it comes out in the building and breaking of groups. A dancer denoted by a suit jacket becomes the builder of civilisations, leading groups in movement, dividing them into classes, keeping bodyguards on hand to crush rebellion, and all dance furiously to his tune as helplessly as puppets. Even as night falls and the movements turn to animalistic revelry there is still the sense that the dancers are driven, compelled by some force beyond themselves – that none of them truly have control over their own actions.
One thing I particularly liked and did not expect from this piece was the amount of humour and self-awareness in it. At the very beginning the voice from the heavens announced that “just to reassure people” and make sure everyone was on the right page, they would show a little of the finale first, and the lights came up on a pretty and delicate ten seconds or so of something akin to a wedding dance in an opera, cutting off abruptly back into darkness. “So, now that you know it’s all going to be ok at the end, we can go right back to the beginning,” announces the voice, also hastening to reassure us that no animals were harmed in the making of this production, to the giggles of many in the audience. Other moments of laughter throughout also provided a welcome relief from the darkness.
As a rule I do not go to dance shows, and I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Yet despite this, I cannot give it four stars. That the show is masterfully put together and performed by outstanding dancers who work their socks off is without question. It is strong, otherworldly and hypnotic, and in my own personal opinion, well worth seeing. But it is (like many great performances) a challenging piece to watch, and it is not to everyone’s taste. More than a few people walked out of the theatre, unable to contend with the jarring nature of the show. But if you like your dance challenging, hard-hitting and powerful, this is a show you must see.
Sun played as part of the Brighton Festival. For more information, see the Brighton Festival website.