V/DA and MHz in association with Feral
Part of the Made in Scotland showcase, VOID is one-woman dance performance based on J G Ballard’s Concrete Island, and reimagined from the perspective of a Black woman, Angela. Concrete Island was the second in an urban disaster trilogy with a white, male, middle class protagonist facing his internal psychological demons after a car crash. The environment remains harsh and sterile, as Angela is trapped alone in an industrial landscape rendered harsh by inspired lighting and sound effects inextricably entwined with the frenetic, disturbing choreography. Ballard’s cool prose has been replaced by a vibrant physical retelling of entering the terror of a psychological void. The script is not just flipped, but turned inside out, showing us what could be termed the ‘negative’ of the privileged, patriarchal supremacy; the internalised trauma of the negation of self, as she grapples with the pain of fully confronting her reality. Yet ‘negative’ is as complex a term as ‘void’, as the show explores. If you are familiar with any of Mele Broome’s previous dance performances such as Grin, you will know to expect a highly conceptual piece. The Character and Concept Consultants are Ashanti Harris, an artist, dancer and activist who is one of the co-founders of Project X Dance Company along with Mele Broomes and Rhea Lewis. V/DA itself is made up of Broomes, Claricia Kruithof and Sabrina Henry. Adura Onashile is a playwright and performer known for Expensive Shit and HeLa, the story of Henrietta Lacks. The innovative MHz scenography is integral to the show, produced by Megahertz duo Bex Anson and Dav Bernard. The dramaturg is Lou Cope and the overall producers that form Feral are Jill Smith, Kathryn Boyle and Conner Milliken.
With a team like this, multilayered complexity is a given. In the production, the experience of marginalisation is pushed to the extreme, and we are pulled along for the ride. Broomes explores the possibility of agency in the placing of oneself fully outside that system of oppression, depending on how you use the experience of being on the empty, neglected hinterland. The first thing is to find a spark of life within, and test the environment without, expressed in tentative, incredibly controlled finger movements after the initial car crash. We’re already invested in her finding her lifeline, and we feel her urgency as she attempts to get attention from passersby. We recognise the futility of imploring those who cannot see you for help. The piece has also been influenced by text The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study’ by Stefano Harney and Fred Moten which sees the potential for revolution in inhabiting the despised chaos that forms the shadow of the values of the Enlightenment. Placing oneself necessarily outside the system to allow for physical and psychological survival, including the space for independent thought, has a long tradition in maronnage in slave societies in the Americas and also the strength of commonality that comes from each other in those communities. What happens in a post industrial society where our lives are marginalised and also atomised? It takes determination to move yourself away from that mental space where reason and logic continue their own mental colonialism. A conversation is impossible with those who are indoctrinated into the superiority of their system. As Bob Marley sang, no one but ourselves can free our minds.
In this reimagining, Angela remains an architect. As she is forced to the margins of a decaying environment, this allows the clarity to imagine and reconstruct a better future. Not just the physical environment, but the inner landscape of oneself. As Angela violently fights and struggles within the darkness of a black dustbin bag, she is able to metamorphosize within her chrysalis. Demolishing the inner architecture of colonialism must precede the process of reconstruction. The deliberate unravelling of the ‘false self’ Fanonian mask of white femininity symbolised in her heels, impotently hanging from the wire fence, allows for the rekindling of real strength and power. As her high heels come off, Angela must reground herself by reclaiming her identity on her own terms. To the sound of the steady beat that has come down through the generations, Angela draws strength from Black women’s historical struggles for freedom in order to reclaim her present identity on her own terms. The architect of her future takes the scraps of her false costume to create a head wrap before our eyes with an air of self-determination and defiance. By self-regulating the presentation of herself, the headwrap becomes a potent symbol of the internal reclamation of power. How deceptively fertile the void can be.
Broomes will play with the audience in breathtaking physical contortions, such as moving into a headstand into a scorpion pose. While she does this, she disconcertingly manages to look at the audience in an intense stare that somehow bizarrely dares the audience to reflect on their own reactions at observing the working out of her own trauma. Physically, Broome’s strength and control are mind-blowing. Her long braids are pulled, jerking her head to and fro as if her strands of hair are antennae trying to make sense of fleeting, intense vibrations in the environment. The density of the movements conveys the resistance inherent in moving to incoherent and impossible demands of the exterior. The feeling of immersion in a harsh industrial landscape and the chaotic energy we feel from the erratic choreography would not work without the industrial soundscape. Urban sounds are sampled, and the movements against the fence create the disturbing soundtrack and industrial noise pollution which helps to keep us all on edge like in the townscapes we inhabit in our everyday lives.
Thought-provoking is an overused, almost throw-away phrase, but this dazzling performance triggered a tsunami of thoughts. As our society is based on a philosophical culture of white male rationality necessarily detached from body and feeling, then non-verbal communication through such a powerful dance performance is the perfect way to step outside these all-encompassing modes of thinking and seeing. It strikes at the heart of the most cherished and celebrated foundations of our unbalanced society, which is what ironically makes VOID’s true effect beyond words.