With Anti-Slavery Day falling within the frame of Applecart Arts’ Dazed New World Festival, the venue played their part in raising awareness by streaming The Natasha’s Project’s On Demand, a show originally developed in 2018 for live audiences to contemplate the prevalence and effects of human trafficing and slavery.
A force of powerfully vulnerable dance, physical theatre, and dialogue, On Demand weaves a uniquely devastating language for an artistic take on such a sensitive and urgent modern issue.
The cast of five open this difficult dialogue with a darkly enthusiastic delivery of Sarah Amankwah’s original script: a childishly exuberant breakdown of the trafficking process through the metaphor of a beautiful flower being mercilessly plucked from where she grows and flourishes. As the performers speak and move in playfully energetic yet skilfully slick harmony, we begin to understand a tragically real character, whose history, innocence and selfhood are progressively and violently stripped.
Through each dance episode that follows, with their often monstrous images and themes illustrative of the physical and psychological deterioration of these represented lives, we recognise returning choreographic motifs referring to the initial story of the flower. Such repetition sustains a subtle narrative throughline, helping the viewer to follow the structure of a critical message that is resultantly protected from being drowned in purely interpretive aesthetics and movement.
On Demand also harnesses repetition for its exploration of existential endurance; this is a show unafraid to painfully draw out simple moments of movement or stillness in order to portray real and represented bodies pushed to their absolute limits.
One quite incredible segment sees the performers repeat the same choreography with increasing speed and frenzy until its clarity is absorbed in complete exhaustion. Always nervously watching an onlooking authority played by the audience, there is an intense accusational quality; they are dancing for us, are we not satisfied? What will we do about it?
Another moment sees a beautifully and excruciatingly slow embrace between Hayley Chilvers and Harriet Parker-Beldeau that builds into a suffocating wrestle of resistance as the dancers’ devastating expressions present a forced distrust for tenderness and intimacy.
The company also calls upon culturally commodified signifiers of femininity in a critical way. A corrupted catwalk section, where the performers poison this familiar choreography of parading the objectified body with twitches, jerks and screams, offers an astute meditation on a ritualistic, commercialised version of femininity that is so universally bought into. In this, we’re poignantly reminded of an insidious gaze upon women that ultimately justifies the use and abuse of their bodies.
Unfortunately, the digital experience of this show is diminished slightly where we lose certain details of the image to low lighting that fails to be picked up on camera. Not lost, though, is the cinematic and sensitive intensity of James Keane’s sound composition. Minor orchestral swellings accompany and never overpower the darker choreographic moments, giving way to silence, feet, claps and breath where the bodies and their stories demand full sensory attention.
The Natasha’s Project are doing inspiring on-going work for survivors and sufferers of human trafficking and slavery, and their continuously creative approach demonstrates the potential of the arts for accessibly presenting and processing these issues as a concern for us all.
On Demand played Dazed New World Festival until the 19 October. For information, see Dazed New World Festival online.