Review: Brighton Festival, TrapTown, Brighton Dome

Ultima Vez, a contemporary dance company formed by Belgian choreographer Wim Vandekeybus, deliver the UK premiere of their show TrapTown as part of Brighton Festival; and it is stunning. I must confess that I am no connoisseur of dance, contemporary or otherwise, and often find myself checking my watch when I am presented with it. TrapTown keeps me engrossed from start to finish.

TrapTown follows a community in some sort of parallel universe in which there is a conflict between two sets of people: the Metricians and the Odinese. This conflict is followed to a revolutionary conclusion through dance, spoken word, music and film – each aspect executed in stunning fashion. Set in TrapTown, ruled by a Mayor whom we only see in videos, we learn of the myths that bred conflict, witness the contemporary ramifications for this society and follow the story of the Mayor’s son who is eager to right the wrongs of the past and help out those less fortunate than himself. The Odinese people in this story have historically oppressed the Metricians for generations, manipulating and financially exploiting them, and when one Odinese speaks of how important politeness is, how they try to teach that to the Odinese, I am reminded of Britain’s dark colonial past and its involvement in forcing it’s ideas of civility onto other cultures.

Perhaps this narrative is why I am so engrossed. Where it is easy (at least for me) to feel isolated when watching dance, with TrapTown I feel the movements serve a real purpose; that they help to tell the story and to give a flavour of the world they exist in. There are multiple battling duets, charged with potent energy, that show relationships of the oppressed and the oppressor, of the dominant and the subservient – bodies sharing weight, that glide and slide over each other, carrying and being carried. The moment when one dancer plants their feet into the space behind another’s knee and begins to steer them like a mode of transport is particularly mesmeric.

These dancers are not just movers, but actors also. Each character clearly carved out by smart physical work, excellent facial expressions and imaginative vocal choices. When they do dance superlatives are the only words fit to describe them. I can hardly believe how gracefully they fall to the floor, spring from it, wrap and unwrap themselves around each other.

The use of film is inspired. Particularly exciting is how the projections are used in relation to the actors on stage, notably when the Mayor’s son is having a conversation with his Dad. The dancer, live onstage, looks minuscule in comparison to the Mayor’s face projected in close up on the screen; a moment perfectly balancing the futility of arguing with the stubbornness of a previous generation and the naïve petulance of a rebellious son.

There is so much more to write; the music is beautiful (created by Trixie Whitley and Phoenician Drive) and creates a hauntingly hypnotic atmosphere for the piece, the set (designed by Gijs Van Varenberg) is cleverly manipulated by the dancers, allowing for excellent status play and effectively reproducing the restrictive feeling of TrapTown’s network. The text, written by Pieter De Buysser, is clever and allows the audience to consider a number of difficult themes without ever regressing into exposition-like monotony. Together all these aspects make for thrilling viewing.

The company are now touring across Europe, with Belgium the show’s next destination. But if it returns to the UK or you find yourself in its vicinity do not hesitate to watch TrapTown.

TrapTown played the Brighton Dome as part of Brighton Festival on 21 May, before continuing on its European tour. For more information and tickets see the Ultima Vez website.