It could easily be interpreted as an act of narcissism. Quarantine, one of the UK’s most terraforming companies, has arrived at such self-regard as to roll out scenery from its past productions and document its players’ every dance. Yet, the strength of director Richard Gregory’s staging is its investigation, the new possibilities of the synthesis between theatre and reality: what are the limits of an embodied archive?
Every performance is different, not only because it’s improvised but the cast is in rotation. This time James Monaghan stuck to the side-lines, recording the number of dances (rocketing towards 900 in total). Elsewhere, Greg Akehurst takes song requests and punches them into his high-tech desk.
Some entries are impressively stylised. Jo Fong works through her recollections in swift balletic movements, mostly retelling her ho-hum gigs as a dancer. One reviewer of her performance as Gertrude commented on her face remaining still throughout; she had fallen asleep.
Comparatively, Nic Green leaps between past and present in ferocious freestyle, at one point recalling the different dance floors of a nightclub where she worked. Green’s search goes further in that she illuminates the choreography of everyday life, summoning the upsy-daisies of her parents’ when they lifted her off the pavement as a child. In a heartfelt remembering of a friend who passed, she revisits their attendance at Kate Bush’s concerts last year. At the end of a night showy with special effects the musician finally became still at her piano to perform Among Angels. Similarly, Green just sits on a chair, letting Bush’s soft notes land, clutching the imagined hand of her friend sitting beside her.
For each performer, the source of memory is different. The femininity toted by Sonia Hughes’ revelatory steps ranges from wrestling with the grips of chair dancing to traipsing like Madonna in her early years, with joyfully bopping to her mother’s favourite song somewhere in between. Her rejection after asking out a man sees her bust to beats in the loneliness of her home. Her perseverance is best seen during an episode in England’s civil rights movement, when a dance event is threatened to be shut down by police. Hughes lets loose, her body conveying an entire rebellion.
Typical of an experiment, there are negative results. Towards the end, when Hughes summons a number of scenes in succession without the other dancers getting in, the performance suddenly drops and doesn’t sustain. If it’s Gregory’s direction to have each performance try crescendo with one performer’s outburst, perhaps it’s to point to the strain of documentation, an archive fever of compulsive and repetitive returning to the past. If not a satisfying finish, at least it throws up new questions for theatre to answer.
Wallflower played at the Project Arts Centre, Dublin, until 26 September. For more information and tickets, see the Dublin Theatre Festival website.