Across a stage covered with the dirt and debris of an all-night rave, a hooded figure in sparkly trainers, can of beer in hand, walks in perfect slow-motion. It’s like watching an astronaut on the moon, only with a throbbing techno-trance soundtrack. A straggle of fellow ravers follow in various configurations – all maintaining the same slo-mo illusion. Their interactions are distorted by this; what at normal speed might be a glance looks like a drawn-out stare; brushing past someone becomes a long caress. It’s the “HD moment” beloved of TV sports programmes, expanded to fill an entire piece.
You have to marvel at the skill and precision of the 15 dancers in Crowd, the creation of the Franco-Austrian choreographer Gisele Vienne and the opening show of this year’s Dance Umbrella festival. Their chaotic revels are plotted meticulously across 90 minutes – there are make-ups, break-ups and hook-ups; joy, sorrow, anger, lust and jealousy, all rendered trippy by time-distorting movement. After one freeze-framed moment, the dancers switch to a staccato co-ordinated jitter; the effect is how people look under strobe lighting – then they move into a series of pulsing repetitions.
They appear so in synch with each other that it becomes hypnotising to watch, as little individual dramas play out on different parts of the stage and the dancers push the physicality of the piece. For instance, two women manage a series of happy-go-lucky rolls across the ground in slow-motion, which leaves you in awe of their core strength. Vienne’s keen observational skills – she was apparently inspired by her experiences clubbing in Berlin – make everything feel believable; the dramaturgy was created with the American writer Dennis Cooper, a frequent collaborator.
There’s also an undertow of violence to much of what is happening, which can manifest as a vicious kick, a man pinning a woman to the ground, a fight that draws in those around the antagonists. And as the techno ratchets up in intensity there’s a real sense of things starting to come apart amid this increasingly mud-spattered motley crew.
When the party finally winds down, via a stage trick which has three of the dancers emitting clouds of smoke, it feels as though you’ve been through an intense experience with these characters, when really nothing much has happened. It’s quite a trip.