The double bill of The Box and Thinking in the First Person is proof that you do not need any set, costumes or fancy props to create a profound, emotive piece of physical theatre. In fact, it shows that dance theatre can speak a thousand powerful words. Talking Heads reporter Rosalind Roux reviews Thinking in the First Person, from SMHAFF Associate Artist Emma Jayne Park, and you can also read her review of The Box.
Created with support from Creative Scotland and mentorship from Jonathan Burrows and Jonzi D, Thinking in the First Person is an energetic piece of dance theatre performed by Cultured Mongrel (for the second time) at the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival. At the helm of this innovative, exploratory dance company is Emma Jayne Park, a self professed “social activist” and “mongrel”, to reference her talk on TedXPortobello. Park’s work concentrates on “exploring the internal and external pressure in ourselves, that often conflict with each other”. This vision is very much alive in Thinking in the First Person, a contemporary dance and b-boying performance which questions “how self value can fluctuate when faced with constantly presenting oneself online?”
A tabula rasa, the stage is bare. The four performers wear black and have black masks painted on their face stopping just above the mouth. The soundscape of static, white noise is mirrored in the swift, sharp movements of the first tableau. Two performers standing close to one another, almost vibrating. It feels electric. Exploding with dynamic shapes and energy, this piece fills the otherwise dark, empty stage. Fluid yet jarring, there are moments of perfect unity that quickly crumble into contortions and combat-like interactions between the four performers.
Poignant, negative, internationally-recognised hand gestures, are the only definitive depictions of communication throughout the entire piece. Each one is short and sharp and performed with such vigour there is no denying the effect the gesticulations are trying to have. They are deterrents. One of these in particular, pointing right in the middle of the forehead, seemed to be alluding to the pineal gland (third eye). This could be as a reference to the inner workings of the mind, the evocation of mental images or the simply the wider psychological significance of the piece. If not, then it is just a coincidence that the interaction of each performer, buzzing and bouncing off one another on stage, is evocative of the movement of the very electrical signals on which our brains run.
Mass confusion, constantly changing dynamics, harrowing moments and robotic movements with a game-like quality repeat until white vests appear. Perhaps to be interpreted as representations of layers of personality traits or a more literal stripping of identity? Paired with euphoric music, the audience is lulled into a false sense of order, as each painted black face fades a little, only to be flung back into this game-like identity crisis. Any denouement of plot is left to the audience’s imaginations, so, as you can see, the interpretations are never-ending. This creative depiction of struggle and the “consequences of perpetual self-editing” is a frenzied, intrusive, in-explainable expression which, if you have the opportunity, you should go and see.
by Rosalind Roux
Cultured Mongrel also toured Experts in Short Trousers, with support from Creative Scotland’s Open Project Funding, as part of the Scottish Mental Helath Arts & Film Festival. For information on upcoming performances, visit their website.
Click here for Rosalind’s review of The Box from emerging dance artist Julia James-Griffiths, the other half of the double bill at the Scottish Storytelling Centre.