In The Aftermath, young people of Calderdale have come together, with the help of Northern Broadsides and Northern Rascals, to devise a dance piece that questions their place in society. It investigates how a marginalised generation has had their already precarious futures further threatened by coronavirus.
To reflect this difficult position, the piece is fraught with tension between youthful exuberance and pained isolation. There are moments when the whole ensemble is dancing together — not necessarily in-step, but with a sense of energy and movement imbued in every member of the group. And there are moments when isolated dancers perform stuttered, jagged movements alone. The most striking example of this dichotomy comes when a group dance is interrupted by a new character (his purple clothing at odds with the palette of red, orange, and yellow), splintering the ensemble and leading to fractured, separate dancing.
This is an open-air piece and that element provides a real urgency to The Aftermath. Set in The Piece Hall, a former cloth hall regenerated into a town square in Halifax, spectators from the public are often visible in the background, turning this into a more vulnerable, earnest performance. As if this is a desperation move from young people, forced into a public space to make a plea for their future. It’s a brilliant creative decision that greatly enhances the work — particularly in the denouement, when two dancers finally touch and move together. Witnessing physical, human connection in an open setting feels alien in the age of coronavirus, but it’s also heart-warming and hopeful.
There is some voiceover that accompanies the dancing. Most notably sound clips of the health secretary Matt Hancock placing responsibility for public health on young people and interviewers speculating on their role in the spread of coronavirus. The non-diegetic sound is mostly secondary to the physical work, but it does help to inform the movements and illustrates how young people have been demonised and mistreated in the public narrative. It also sets the stage for a beautiful poem at the end of the film, written from the perspective of the young, encapsulating their desire to fight back against prejudice and re-gain an autonomy that may have been lost, or may never have been theirs in the first place.
It could be argued that there’s something too one-sided about The Aftermath — it focuses on the sacrifices of the youth and less on the freedoms (for example, the fact that young people are least likely to suffer serious ill health effects from coronavirus). The work feels posed against older generations: bold and brash in its attempt to condemn politicians, parents, the media, and others for the uncertain future that many young people face. But perhaps this resoluteness is required when the piece is trying to reshape the narrative around young people’s place in the world.
As a production, this is definitely a film rather than a theatrical performance that happens to have been recorded. It’s been crafted with a camera in mind, and this is undoubtedly a strong point. The direction provides vivacity to the film and showcases the talent of the dancers and the choreography of Anna Holmes and Sam Ford.
The Aftermath is a charged and engaging creation. It constantly oscillates between hope and anger, reflecting a generation who are anxious about the state of the world but aware of their potential to change it; for a small group of young people from Calderdale, this work is their first attempt to do so. They’ve found a way to make their voices heard in a powerful and evocative way.
The Aftermath is available to stream for free online.