As part of the Barbican’s 2018 season, The Art of Change, Rhiannon Faith celebrates women’s empowerment through dance theatre. Performed by female survivors, we are taken through a series of painful, honest accounts as they search for freedom, belief and strength. This show is as an act of resilience against domestic violence.
Baby pink chairs form a circle around a rain of golden balloons. There is popcorn and cider and presents wrapped in silk ribbon waiting to be opened. We have all been invited to Beverly’s party. As the conversation starts between the audience members and the performers, we are each given the name Bev. We are all Bev’s tonight, “We all have stories, there is a bit of Beverly in all of us”.
Dressed in grey iron wigs and silver sequin dresses, six Beverlys stand below their own microphone that swings from the ceiling. They begin to reveal to us their dark memories, where physical harm, isolation and psychological manipulation had become the norm in their lives. Speaking in unison, breaking and then interrupting each other, each voice begins to effectively overlap.
Suddenly the raw intensity changes and we are shifted back to the party. With bodies pressed together, they burst balloons to the sound of electronic music. The audiences’ glasses are refilled and a toast is made. This is a celebration about unity and supporting one another. It is not long before the party games begin and pass- the-parcel is introduced. As the music stops and the paper is torn, statics about the abuse of women fall from the audiences laps and a series of statements are read aloud. We begin to hear the shocking reality that “one in four women experience domestic violence”.
In order to connect the different sequences, Faith has choreographed some sublime compositions. Controlled, she gives them time to resonate in the space. There is a moment when the company intricately weave in and out of each other with arms outstretched, motionless their eyes never meeting. There is nobody there to take their hand, their arms brush through the air waiting to be held. The simplicity is effective. She allows these poignant images to settle and therefore they are remembered.
The dancers Valerie Ebuwa, Yukiko Masui and Maddy Morgan expose their inner pain through their extraordinary raw movement. Husky screams become coarse and bruised bodies being to droop and fall. Masui is thrown across the space, she suspends in flight before crumbling to the ground. Suddenly the dancers are all shaking and rippling, their spines becoming contorted and they begin to get tangled in one another. We witness a disturbing moment near the end of the piece that reminds us of the unpredictability of the human condition. It is the first time one of the Bev’s has inflicted pain on another. Sitting on a chair, with legs splayed, Morgan continuously shoves Masui’s face into a cake. With such harsh brutality, her head is yanked and pushed further and further, till there is nothing left but crumbs that scatter the floor.
Faith’s work brings to light what it means to be truly frightened as a woman in society however it is also a pilgrim of solidarity. Active change needs to happen fast. Why are victims often ignored, cast aside and forgotten? As one of the Bev’s exclaims, “protect your people”. This is a direct stab at the government’s inability to take action. It is time to be listened to and be heard.
Smack That (a conversation) is playing at the Barbican until 16 June