The nightclub dance floor offers a poetic, imaginative space for acting out multiple identities. Enjoyed as a stage where non-dancers and dancers alike can potentially explore their fantasies in a safe, dimly lit environment, whether that is through technical experimentation, gesture or attitude, the dance floor is a place of endless possibilities.
Igor Urzelai and Moreno Solinas take this concept of the dance floor as a haven of choice with its distinctive electronic, high energy music and lighting to question who we are. Why do we feel the need to continually present different identities to the world? How long can we keep reinventing ourselves? Are we so spoilt for choice that we can’t settle for what and who we are or what we have?
Central to the work is dancer Margherita Elliot who performs a fifty-minute solo of reinvention. She’s positioned on a clean white raised podium for most of the piece framed by three cycloramas of various sizes, hung one behind the other. While they function as canvasses across which a feast of choreographed, colourful lighting is projected in sync with the music, the effect of the screens receding into the back of the theatre creates a feeling of infinity. KASPERSOPHIE’S seductively hyper-cool set and DJ Martha’s dance beats both feel good.
What unfolds is the most transfixing performance in which Elliot tries out multiple personalities, morphing through moves, moods, dance styles, gestures – a limitless menu of embodiment – driven by DJ Martha’s music. Elliot, girlish in appearance but with a grounded presence that can take on a packed theatre, is both transparent and opaque to read. As she meets each and everyone’s gaze, she holds her own, unphased, unselfconscious even when dancing flat out or twisting her face into gargoyle grimaces. I feel that I’m under her spell – everything she does fascinates from incidental movements to codified stapes. I can’t take my eyes of her, eager to see what she’ll do next, who she’ll become and how. Is she a show-off gymnast, a serious ballerina, a macho weight lifter, a comedienne, an ordinary person, a cheer leader, an actress, a folk dancer, a monged-out clubber; a cheeky child, a wise old woman; gay, straight, gender fluid; happy, depressed, grotesque, aggressive. As she confidently and seamlessly passes through these different transformations, she interacts with us – rarely removing her gaze, questioning us, reflecting on what we give her back as an audience. How will we react to her continuously shifting states? I marvel at how her behaviour and appearance can change from one beat to the next – how she can look so different through subtle gestures, a raised eyebrow, a glance, a stare.
She’s dressed neutrally in slightly sporty, baggy white shorts and plimsolls with an oversized, reversible patched jacket, all of which have a part to play in her role-play. For example, she removes her jacket to reveal a shirt, which then stretches to become a dress or a hood. Through versatility in costume and performance, Elliot represents identities that are blissfully unfixed and unpredictable yet her strong engaging personality centres her. She’s a reliable guide leading me through her hall of mirrors.
BEAT has three parts which develop the narrative and keep us questioning. The first is where she displays her technical virtuosity whether it is pedestrian action or dance technique and in which she reveals her extrovert side. In the middle section Elliot tests out some audience interaction, walking up the aisles of the auditorium, examining her audience up close while moulding her face into various expressions. Her last dance phase on the podium reveals her more introverted side. Here she abandons herself to the beats of the music which seem to inhabit her body, shifting from hip to hip, eyes closed in a trance. Day-Glo colours bounce off the screens in a sophisticated son-et-lumière by designer Seth Rook Williams and DJ Martha’s best dance music vibrates through the theatre. For the first time I see a huge vulnerability in Elliot, maybe because she engages with us less, disconnects her gaze as she withdraws into introversion. There’s a loneliness in this scene and I reflect on how sometimes dance floors, while being celebrated as places of communitas can also feel desolate, sterile and even hostile.
What Elliot, Urzelai and Solinas communicated here is that having it all, growing up in a world which offers so much choice, does have its limits. The pressure to be someone every day, the effort, pain and uncertainty in choosing what you want to present to society makes it impossible to stop dancing to the beat of time.
Cool, intelligent, thought-provoking, BEAT excels because of its fantastic creative team and its absolute superstar, Margherita Elliot.