Worse Things Happen At Sea
Posted on NOVEMBER 28, 2015
A few months ago I went into the very first Block rehearsal.
I sat on a windowsill in the rehearsal room and watched the exploratory beginnings of the process. I watched the dancers warm up, and I watched as Paul set them tasks and investigate their responses. I also looked out of the window to watch people going about the tasks of their everyday Friday afternoons. I watched them in their vans and cars, or as they walked along the pavement alone or in groups. I watched them swig from bottles of Lucozade and fiddle with radios. I watched them stumble in potholes and stare at their phones, light menthol Superkings and ignore cat calls from leering men. I watched this corner of normal, boring, routines of life, and wondered what it would be like if all this was ripped away. I wondered what it does to a person when you are torn from what you know. When all the banal, tedious, traffic-light-shop-window-bin-man-bus-stop familiarity of daily existence just, goes away.
Now the audience sit on mattresses on four sides of the performance space at Cambridge Junction, waiting for the performance to start. They are squeezed together, and they look uncomfortable. Some have opted for the cross-legged position; others have pressed their knees together, clinging onto them in a bid to take up less space. My lower back twinges in sympathy. In the stage in the middle are three more mattresses, made up like proper beds.
The lights dim. A clock ticks loudly, interrupted periodically by an industrial-sounding crunch. The dancers move into the space in a tangle of arms and legs like one being, or like a machine. They keep nearly being separated but finding each other again, clinging on until, finally they are torn apart. Each of them is all alone.
They are whirled about the space. The violence of the movement looks like a shipwreck, like they’re lost underwater and at the mercy of the waves. Jordan, Josh and Christina are washed up onto the mattresses, while Lisa is still tumbling in the shallows.
For some reason The Tempest springs into my mind as I think of the shipwreck and the exile. Perhaps it is something about how small and vulnerable their humanity looks, each alone on their tiny island. The audience are small as well, crouching hopefully on their mattress rafts. The people on stage are performing exile and isolation, while the audience sit in a dark, unfamiliar room, squashed up with strangers, waiting to see what will happen next.
Throughout the performance the characters played by Jordan, Josh and Christina try to express their loneliness. They use language to bridge the gap between their lost selves and the onlookers, attempting to be reasonable, rational, even funny, but their anger and fear spills hopelessly over. Sometimes it spills over in words, like when Jordan is trying to talk about peaceful protest, setting a good example and writing letters to his MP, but then quietly (almost cheerfully) reveals that he would “top himself” if it wasn’t for his kids.
Sometimes, though, the movement belies the fury. Josh’s krumping is so powerful that the audience become almost totally still during it. Only during a pause do I see a man very slowly reach up to scratch his nose and woman carefully cover her mouth with her hands. When Christina speaks during her movement I can hardly hear her, and although I don’t know whether or not this is deliberate, it seems to me unbearably sad that a woman is trying to express her fear, but too quietly to be heard.
Lisa is silent but her presence is loud. She moves around the others. In my Tempest thoughts I wonder if she is Ariel, beleaguered spirit, or Caliban, detested monster, or whether perhaps she is somehow both. She seems as lost as the other performers, but her lack of voice makes her seem different, distinctly other. When she finally gets a mattress the music becomes gentler. She explores the bed like she has never seen one before, doing it all wrong but revelling in its softness. I’m reminded of stories of wild children, raised by animals in forests and emerging, languageless and unused to domesticity.
The others find this softness in one another, when they are allowed. They have moments of connection before being ripped away again, forced to be alone and away from the comforts of normal life.
Jordan’s jokes near the end of the show feel hollow and painful. The audience attempt to laugh at them, generously, but the jokes seem more full of anguish than humour and the laughs fade.
As the performance finishes they are each alone once again on their mattress islands. I can’t see Lisa but I imagine her curled in a tree root, away from any semblance of the softness she was fleetingly allowed.
They wait as the lights dim. The audience applauds, and when the lights come back up the performers have disappeared. Once again I am reminded of the Tempest:
…release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands:
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please.
The performers are released by the applause of the audience, away from their islands on the stage. The audience stand up from their mattresses, stretching and chatting. We are released as well, ready to go back to our lives. Our normal lives, full of the comforting realities of Lucozade bottles, car radios and potholes in the pavement.