It is irrefutable that choreographer, Charlotte Vincent, is passionate about her subject. The Place’s bar is filled with pre-show information and activities that encourage the audience to engage with the themes of Virgin Territory before the performance even begins. From a trough of soil in which to bury your negative sexting experiences, to t-shirts you can decorate with your own slogans surrounding sexual consent, the stations that are scattered across the bar area are all designed to make you think about your personal connection to the issues Vincent is exploring; namely the over-sexualisation of children, and how this is perpetrated through the social media culture of the 21st Century.
After this engaging prelude, the audience are invited into the performance space. The Place’s auditorium has been transformed into a theatre in the round, with the usual seating hidden behind the curtain and the audience sat on wooden chairs around the edge of the stage, which is covered by a sheet of faux grass. It is refreshing for a choreographer to reconsider their use of space, rather than just conforming to the standard proscenium format – even if the new seating arrangements were less than comfortable, especially for a show approximately two hours long…without an interval.
Despite its daunting length, Virgin Territory is populated with countless humorous and at times disturbing vignettes that prompt discussion around gender relations, and the relationship between sex and the new technological age in which we find ourselves. It is performed by an eclectic cast of four professional performers, and four child performers – who are extremely impressive in their execution of both technical dance phrases and also theatrical/emotional intentions.
Stand out moments include a sinister duet in which dancer Robert Clarke engages in suggestive, erotic contact with a seemingly unconscious, intoxicated Valerie Ebuwa, as well as a scene in which the entire cast enter with balloons stuffed down their chests and trousers, to form comic inflatable breasts, buttocks and muscles. It is particularly disturbing to see the younger performers eroticised in this way. This theme of infant sexualisation runs throughout the piece, with the girls rolling up their skirts and applying make up for no other occasion but to take a selfie.
In earlier scenes of Virgin Territory it is particularly heartening that Vincent attempts to equally present both men and women as the victims of unrealistic and unnatural aesthetic ideals perpetrated by the media and fashion industries. However, this initial promise of equal concern for the plights of both genders dissipates as the performance continues. Vincent focuses on the plight of females vulnerable to sexual predators in physical and virtual realms, which is relevant and thought provoking, however it is somewhat disappointing that all men are portrayed as pimps and paedophiles, in a two hour span of finger pointing and man-hating.
In Virgin Territory, Vincent has undeniably identified various controversial areas which are in dire need of discussion including gender relations, consent, and children’s relationships to sexuality in reality and cyberspace. However, one may argue that whilst all these topics are related, trying to cover them all within a single dance production is overambitious and results in a choreographic marathon that at times – combined with Vincent’s tendency to hammer home her point through constant repetition – becomes monotonous for the audience.
Virgin Territory is running at The Place until November 5.