LCP Dance Theatre’s piece, Escape, explores the journey of a refugee through aerial dance and physical theatre, responding to a very current topic. Using aerial slings, projection and their bodies, Joanna Puchala and JC Bailey aim to create an emotionally gripping piece, and while their intentions are clearly there and can be appreciated, the piece itself fails to connect or emote.
Devising a piece around the refugee crisis is extremely difficult. It requires thorough research and sensitivity, as performances can often romanticise the struggles refugees go through. Throughout the piece I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable exactly for this reason. For example, I felt that the projection on the screen of aesthetically pleasing slow-motion underwater shots showing the dancers swim gracefully were inappropriate when thinking about refugees lost at sea. The dance sequences were presented with some sense of narrative, but I wasn’t sure what each sequence was supposed to convey: are we seeing a refugee’s struggle, or is this a more abstract representation of struggle and freedom in general? Puchala’s choreography contains odd moments such as swimming on the floor or trying to breathe, which were too explicit, while other movements felt less anchored to the theme and therefore didn’t communicate enough meaning. The aerial performances were impressive and even striking at times, especially when the dancers allowed time for each movement to breathe. When they took their time and let small movements take the spotlight, I felt the piece was really understanding its scale. But when the dance got melodramatic, I failed to connect. Most of this was down to the music composed by Stefano Guzetti; the dramatic strings and piano somehow cheapened the dance and turned it clichéd. It would have been far more interesting to see these performances without any music at all, to hear the breathing and the sound of the slings and therefore allow the rawness of the piece to take the spotlight.
It is a real shame because both Puchala and Bailey are strong dancers and powerful performers. They dance through the piece with incredible stamina and have the ability to communicate emotions without words. Their brown, long costumes don’t help them though as they often get entangled in their own and each other’s clothes, and too often their faces are covered, blocking the connection between us and them.
On the technical side many things require more precision, such as the placement of the projector so the audience can see the footage projected. Similarly, the plastic curtains used in the piece seemed to serve no particular purpose other than the reveal of the first dancer at the very beginning of the performance. Unfortunately the only time I felt truly emotional is when we saw footage from a documentary in which refugees were interviewed, but these clips felt tacked on as an afterthought and unfortunately made me question the entire intention of the piece.
Escape is playing at the Blue Elephant until 6 August 2016. For more information and tickets, see The Blue Elephant Theatre website.