James Cousins’ Company celebrates life and love in a delicious immersive dance work which mobilizes over 70 dancers across the multiple spaces of Battersea Arts Centre. We are as Gods transforms the massive Victorian, former town hall into a fantastical clubland, a provocative art gallery, a gathering place where people can feast on movement, poetry, music and bodies. Cousin’s first large scale work is in good hands with trusted collaborators poet Sabrina Mahfouz, music and sound designers Torben Lars Sylvest and Par Carlsson and Jasmine Swan’s inspired set and costume designs. A stunning cast of performers includes ten dancers from the company, 3rd year students from London Contemporary Dance School as well as community groups of children and older people from the local area.
As well as being dazzling and visionary, the work does two essential things: it breathes life into the venue again, starved of performance over lockdown and brings people – audiences and artists – together socially to consume art. The whole inclusive and ‘relaxed’ nature of the performance means that as an audience member we can eat, drink, choose what to watch and where to be in the building. There are even chill-out rooms where we can retreat if it all gets too much, essential for the amount of walking required to fully experience what’s on offer!
Dancers decorating the elegant marble staircase, dressed as angels and posing as unnervingly convincing sculptures, rouse themselves to become our nonchalant guides. We don’t have to follow but I find myself being swept along in their powerful aura through a labyrinth of halls, offices, a members’ room and intimate studios. The journey up and down stair, or along corridors, reveals the faded grandeur of the multifaceted building and disclosed secret, inner chambers that one wouldn’t know about. Entering these different rooms is exciting, like opening a box of very unusual chocolates and anticipating the taste. Each contains something different to watch or experience: an illuminated metal frame in the shape of a huge cube; kitsch gaudy sculptures and furniture; a fake grass floor with neon signs or hundreds of helium balloons. The performers we encounter in these spaces, somewhat alien in theatrical make-up, outlandish costumes and lit by ambient enriching luminosity, resemble extraordinary party people from Sci Fi movies, hybrids of human and replicant forms, whose dress sense embraces an eclectic fusion of fashion styles.
Snapshots of material unpacked from Cousins’ repertoire – solos, duets or small group formations from Rosalind and Epilogues and Without Stars – unfolds in these intimate rooms alongside new material. These are performed by company members, the likes of Jemima Brown and Chihiro Kawasaki. Consequently, the choreography has a familiar intensity, so characteristic of Cousins’ work, where bodies entangle with others, emotively charged with hyper articulated gestures and steps, dynamically varied and technically challenging. The movement, erotic and sensual, fuses themes of love and care for each other with spoken word – the seductive voice of Sabrina Mahfouz – who questions our place and part in the co-habitation of our vulnerable planet, provocatively interrogating what we understand by a ‘safe space’.
In contrast to these intimate performances are others by a crowd of dancers in colourful club gear. This group who appear throughout the duration of the evening and are also our guides, play the part of a feel-good chorus line determined to get the party going, bigging it up in the vast ballroom space and foyer, or shimmying along the adjoining corridors in a Conga line. Their movement performed in unison, draws on a more commercial, music video dance style, fused with energy and generosity.
Cousins’ large scale inclusive work is hard not to enjoy. Even though at times it dips into indulgent tropes of narcissism and beauty and seems designed for a younger audience (so maybe not as inclusive as its marketing suggests), it should be experienced as a hopeful reintroduction into the world of performance, desire, glamour and interaction. We are as Gods will be remembered as a visual and sensuous spectacle but it also quietly invites us to build a better future by inhabiting space responsibly together.