27th August 2016 at the EICC
This dance piece by Belgian company Kabinet K was performed by children and intended for a young audience. However, it did not seem like a terribly child-friendly atmosphere as the lights went up to reveal a barren landscape: black, mostly empty, a few stones, a tin barrel, a brown mattress and a frayed fabric backdrop. The audience is plunged into this strange dystopia where children are left to fend for themselves in a threateningly bleak world.
A troupe of children scarper around the stage: one boy in a group of girls who look aged between 6 and 11 years-old. Curiously there is also a man playing an electric guitar who sits in the corner of the stage, seemingly unconnected to the children, but his presence is acknowledged a few times which is confusing. The children move in a captivating way: their movements are wild, sometimes brutal, sometimes tender. They dance, leap, bound and tussle but also need to be held every now and again. We see a structure unfold, tasks being divided out and performed in this bizarre but functional kid society.
Then, a man appears. A fully grown man. He seems quite hostile and a little afraid of the children. The children and the man try to sound each other out and this is represented through lots of physical contact involving a great deal of lifting and dropping. The way in which the man throws around the little girls could seem worrying to some - at times I felt a little uncomfortable. Even stranger, an older woman appears. She is less hostile but seems very cold and does not interact with the children very much. Even with the adults now here, the children still have to fend for themselves. There is a very vivid scene in which a girl smashes open tins of frankfurters with a rock: it is shocking and mesmeric to watch.
There were many things in this performance that I do not think would by thought of or risked by British theatre makers. The contact between the man and the young girls was non-threatening but I could see how some may see it as problematic. There was also a segment where one of the girls strips down to her pants and dances under a shower: this is an action of innocence and joy and absolutely non-sexual but not something I could imagine seeing in a UK production.
Overall, I really respected the energy and edginess of the piece - it was indeed 'raw'. The choreography felt free and wild whilst also showing vulnerability, which is a difficult balance to strike. A key element was the fact that the children were not typical dance school kids; they seemed very natural and unpretentious. I had some difficulty understanding the point of the adults and why they had appeared, but perhaps I wasn't supposed to understand. The performance almost hypnotic but I found it hard to connect emotionally. I felt a barrier which prevented me from empathising with the characters, I wasn't sure what there was to empathise with, so I left with my brain feeling impressed but my heart feeling cold.