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Review by Carla Melaco.
This week, Head Space Dance concluded their run of Stepmother/Stepfather, a double bill of work both directed and choreographed by Arthur Pita. It was their final performance of a national tour that included theatre spaces around the UK, including The Lowry, Salford, and The Place, London. I was fortunate enough to catch their performance at Newcastle’s Dance City.
As I entered the theatre, a glass coffin – holding none other than Snow White herself – stood centre stage. Either side of it was a row of chairs, seating figures dressed head to toe in black, their faces obscured by dark veils. Already it was clear that this performance was not your average contemporary dance piece; I felt ready to expect the unexpected.
What followed was two equally distorted pieces in which fantasy became horror; fairy tale became nightmare.
The first, entitled Stepmother, reimagined our favourite fairy tale stories in a new light; raw and uncut, reminiscent of the original Grimm tales of gore and villainy. However, Pita’s work is not limited to the tales we know and love. Rather, he explores the common traits of the evil stepmothers who are so often presented in fiction. Jealousy, the pursuit for youth, and repressed sexual desires all form key parts of this disturbing – yet wholly enchanting – piece.
Dressed in ankle-length leather trench coats, the dancers move with a fluidity which highlights Pita’s ability as a contemporary choreographer. However, the dark costumes also serve a more theatrical purpose; creating a sense of mystery and disguise whilst warping the movement. As an audience member, this only intensifies the already harrowing action on stage.
Meanwhile, in Stepfather, Pita creates an entirely different setting. Using the music of folk rock band Violent Femmes, Pita shifts time and space, transporting us over the Atlantic to America. Despite a world at odds with the non-descript settings of the first piece, we are reminded of similar themes; death, sexuality, and an overwhelming sense of darkness. In a tale of murder, incest and suicide, Pita creates vibrant characters, introducing moments of joy and light-heartedness in complete contrast to the darker elements of his storyline.
The only real downfall of this thrilling double-bill was the overly long interval. Lasting over 20 minutes, it was an unwelcome break to the action inside the theatre, especially for those eager to watch the next instalment of Pita’s creepily addictive storytelling. However, I must admit that this was balanced out by the post-show talk, a staple of Dance City’s performances. It provided the ideal opportunity to discuss aspects of the work with Arthur Pita himself; a great way for audience members to engage fully with the creative process behind the performances on stage.
All in all this was a raw, uncut evening of contemporary dance theatre; chilling and gruesome, yet completely compelling at the same time. Eyes are gauged, toes eaten, and hair chopped. Indeed, in many ways, this performance was less dance and more theatre, certainly in comparison to much of the other work shown at Dance City. Having been originally created in association with DanceEast as a Hallowe’en piece for teens, the work creates enthralling caricatures, resulting in a captivating piece of contemporary dance which would be an ideal introduction to many who have never experienced contemporary dance before.