any attempt will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones –  Sadler’s Wells, London

Choreographer: Jan Martens

In any attempt will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones, Flemish choreographer Jan Martens, with his dance group GRIP, attempts to make a space for multiple voices, multiple ages, a variety of body types, to come together and illuminate their differences, their individual vision, and their collective harmony. In a world of discord, he wants to “bring together different types of performers, embracing the multitude in the dance field and in society nowadays.”

He puts 17  dancers, ages ranging from 17 to 70, on stage on their own, in small groups, and eventually altogether. They jump, twitch, wander, seemingly without any focus, but gradually the movement becomes purposeful and directed, and the dancers begin to make wave-like progressions with beautiful co-ordination and harmony, islands of individual movement suddenly being absorbed into the collective flow, breaking out again into jerky self-expression.

Jan Martens is exploring the possibilities of speaking out against injustice in concert with other activists, and at the same time retaining an individual voice. He uses voiced-over texts from Ali Smith and Kae Tempest to examine collective voices and self-expression, working together and in conflict. It’s a challenging set of ideas to work through in a dance piece and the nuanced texts come up against a slightly balder expression in the movement, but there is an emotional charge to it, a sense of acceptance and inclusion that doesn’t submerge or suppress the individuals. There are no dancers of colour among the 17, which is noteworthy. Are there no dancers of colour in Antwerp or Rotterdam?  That aside, he employs dancers through a huge age-range, he seeks to show a variety of body-types, there is a clear visual representation of diversity.

For the bulk of the 90-minute piece, the dancers are wearing shades of grey – differently styled, tight, flowing, shorts and tee shirts, leotards, all sorts of garments, but all grey. Then the lights change to a murky red glow, two rails of clothes are brought on, and the dancers change into things which are revealed, when the harsh white top-lights snap on, to be vivid scarlet, with lots of ruffles. It isn’t entirely clear what this manifestation means, but it is a startling coup de théâtre that feels very freeing. The dancing is more expressive, more joyous, the stage is vibrant.

It’s a transformation that is worth waiting for. Jan Martens writes: “When you can claim your space or speak up on stage it becomes easier to claim your space in society.” and making a big scarlet statement seems to do that rather well.

Runs until 25 May 2022

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