Crowd by Gisèle Vienne plays with light, sound and action to create suspenseful and surprising live theatre.
Built on a simple premise, that a rave is a crowd is an assembly of bodies — a group seeking to transcend its everyday existential condition — the work is layered with subtext by longtime collaborator Dennis Cooper.
The monumental Victoria Theatre stage is covered in soil. Plastic bottles glisten in the light shining on this wasteland. The lights on the audience dim, and electronic music layers phase in and out. This post-apocalyptic scene suggests zombies, war zones, unfinished construction sites. When a lone hooded figure emerges, my imagination sees the stage as a back alley gathering spot: for the outlaw, the deviant, the misfit. In very slow motion, the figure proceeds forward, head bobbing and grooving. Finally seen in the light, what is revealed is no menacing gangster, but a young woman, dressed in pale pink.
15 youthful dancers create a slow-motion film before our eyes; their private conversations inaudible to us. The drama unfolds in rich hues. The colours of their clothing are reminiscent of a 90s rave scene: a faded oversized flannel shirt, a cut-up black tank top, bright blues and greens and reds. Jackets get worn, placed in the soil, worn again. The stage lights shift to illuminate a diagonal, a scene, an individual. Each gesture unfolding deliberately, each sensual undulation of the torso understood differently when slowed down. The emotional trajectory of each character registers over the course of the evening as I start to notice archetypes — this one’s a horn-dog, this one’s trying to forget something awful in her life, these two are friends, this one’s incredibly friendly and even more of a misfit than most. Two girls make out. A boy tries to get intimate with another boy who has shut down his emotions and his senses. It is reverie, an emotional mess, a depiction of the illusion of joy enveloping an upset generation.
Seen as a whole, the scenes almost embody ideals of classical beauty, a sense of harmony and balance. Sometimes these images are violent — a street fight, exploding bottles of coca-cola (coke) — sometimes the bodies lay strewn on the ground as a woman cries devastated over another. But no person is ever merely a stock image. Each character and each performer carries the baggage of their lives with them to the party.
At the party, the dancers distort our sense of time to a DJ set by Peter Rehberg. He combines the electronic beats of the 90s with a more intimate composition by the ground-breaking duo KTL (Peter Rehberg and Stephen O’Malley). These are sounds that have found their way from the underground into the mainstream; they have shaped the contemporary relationship between music, technology, and the body. The 15 dancing bodies on stage are all born in the 80s and 90s, mostly trained in European conservatories, and have grown up accompanied by these sounds. When they move in freeze frame, or jerk like a gif file, it reads like a first language, a native tongue. The bodies project an image as much as they become an image. Their individual stories are signified by the minute interactions between them, the expressions on their faces, the moments they lock eyes with each other.
A party is a ritual. A gathering point around which new relationships might build or fall apart, when one might experience near-religious euphoria or deep existential angst. I have never been to a party without mobile phones and where coke bottles explode, especially not in this city. But aesthetic beauty and ecstatic expressions, a calculated sense of time, build magical, magnetic performances. The older (expatriate?) man seated in front of me grooves quietly along in agreement. His two young sons are similarly captivated. Their mother leaves and returns midway.
I hear a forlorn foghorn, and the dancers gradually clear the stage, leaving two behind. He throws a packet of chips at her. She picks it up, she smiles. Someone re-enters, slowly. I hear airplanes and fireworks. One person reaches out to the other. Blackout, except you, can still see the reflective strips on the dancer’s jacket, and they stay still for a long while. The image sticks. The party is not over. This wasteland is still here.