For me, the process of undoing occurs over the course of the show. We start off with some repetitive, structured movements, before culminating in some more fluid and bizarre movements towards the end. There are times when the show becomes particularly meta – the choreographer questioning whether her intention is relevant for the work, vocalising that you may have subconsciously chosen a particular dancer to watch because you see yourself in them, or watching one dancer (Samara Reweti on opening night) draw the short straw and is tasked with walking the length of the stage over the duration of the show – 64 minutes from the point of being chosen, our own personal measurement of time like a bar at the bottom of a video. I look back at Reweti several times during the show to see how she is moving so slowly and yet so quickly across the stage. It truly is a feat of mastery, the skill of slowness. Each night a different dancer is chosen, and they deserve their own round of applause. It truly is an incredible feat.
I like these meta-moments. They don’t overshadow the work, rather accompany it gently in a balanced and effective way. In some sections, when the dancers use their voice to make a short sharp primal noise, the “theatre” and “dance” elements seem to work together in perfect harmony, one informing the other. I have seen another dance theatre show long ago where the elements of “theatre” and “dance” were too alien from each other, and the result was a jarring jumping between them. Sanders has somehow managed to distil the essences of these two forms to create the perfectly blended alchemy we call UNDOING.
All the dancers are, of course, impeccable. They each give spice, joy, strength, and absurdity to us in their own way. Yet, interestingly, no one’s ego overshadows the others – a testament to the trust and care the dancers have for each other and the community built by Sanders. This could also be reflected in their costuming, white long-sleeved shirts each with a dancer’s face on it. I find myself connecting with each of the dancers in a different way for a different moment or section of the piece. Seeing as I cannot condone giving any particular dancer credit over the others, I will give them each the recognition they deserve by mentioning their names here: Kia Jewell, Ella Williams, Luke Romero, Wade Walker-Berben, Hahna Nichols, Helena May, Otto Kosok, Kiki Miwa, Caspar Ilschner, and the aforementioned Samara Reweti and Christopher Alan Moore. (Note: during the evening shows on the 9th and 12th of April, Moore’s role will be replaced by Ben Ashby and I am intrigued to hear how he slots himself into this company and show.)
Accompanying the dancers is the empty stage of BATS Theatre’s The Stage, apart from a mic and stand for the scripted sections, sound (Jackie Jenkins) and lighting (Brynne Tasker-Poland). Sometimes it’s a particular accompaniment of sound that is clashing with one another, other times it seems more cerebral, collecting samples and presenting them to us through sound in a way I have not heard before to help spur thought. I’m not sure if sound is necessarily meant to accompany perfectly what is occurring on stage, but for the most part this seems to be complimentary. There were some lighting states I adore. These were often where I thought the light brought another mood, either contrasting or supportive, or it highlighted the bodies on stage in a particularly glorious light. Memorable states are the stage bathed in blue, bathed in purple pinks, or a smoky soft golden light with spotlighted streaks (these spotlighted streaks a call back to the state of the stage as the audience enters). I’m surprised there aren’t more of these memorable moments for me. Perhaps not every frame needs or should have cutting-edge, visually scrumptious lighting design, but when it happens, by Jove it’s good.
For me, UNDOING is about returning ourselves back into our bodies. There is a beautiful section where Miwa is splayed across the shoulders of Ilschner, rotating slowly, as she explains her knees are kissing, even though they don’t know they are not mouths, followed by other small statements, reminding us and reframing the things we assume on a daily basis into the context of our bodies. “When I face a wall, so does my face… When I am listening, so are my ears... When I am watching, so are my eyes... When I am thinking, so is my spinal chord…” (Not necessarily in that order, and there are many other juicy morsels, those are simply the ones I remember.) There are plenty of moments like this where it starts out slightly nonsensical but as it is explored, it starts to unravel in a Kafka-like absurdity, one which takes seriously the absurd to transport us somewhere profound.
Swept away, I am, by UNDOING. A show that makes me laugh, and at a point a touch frustrated, makes me feel joy, gets the cogs of my brain turning, and, most importantly, brings me from the ethereal heights of consciousness and puts me back into my body. Oh, and gives me a craving to dance. “Dance what you can do for the think.”
UNDOING is on until the 14th of April, grab your tickets from BATS Theatre before they sell out.