South Bank Royal Festival Hall is a space I usually associate with classical music, full choirs, and orchestras. This is the first dance piece I have seen in the space. The staging is curiously bare to begin with. The stage is black, and a full light set up – house lights included – remain for the first half of the show, to later be replaced with green and red wash spots and a purple strobe. The end sequence involves a snow fall effect which is such a gentle and beautiful contrast to the hardness of the lighting and staging up to that point.

Credit: Arnaud Mbaki

The sound for the majority of the piece was uncomfortably loud and consisted of dissonant and grating sounds that created an almost unpleasant auditory experience. At times the bass vibrated through you, making it an almost immersive experience – certainly one you could not switch your senses off from.

The piece consisted of seven dancers and twenty musicians. The dancers remain on stage for the majority of the eighty-five minute performance with an energy and focus that is mesmerising. The musicians appear for approximately fifteen minutes towards the end of the piece: twenty violinists in black ties or draped-structure ballgown and bare feet. For much of the piece, a soundtrack creates the musical accompaniment for the section the violists create that causes discomfort and dissonance through a murmur of high, tense sounds which fluctuates through their time on stage. The sound changes through ripples across the stage, and sounds of broken glasses punctures through the violins.

Credit: Arnaud Mbaki

Contorted, chaotic, and yet ultimately controlled, the energy and athleticism of the performers is genuinely unparalleled. The moments of unison are perfectly executed and make individual movements seem even more contrasting. Contrast seemed to be theme throughout: harsh movements followed by smooth ones, and animalistic crawls and runs with turns and lifts. There are numerous moments of nudity – the ‘ass’ portion of the title presumably. I didn’t quite get the relevance of this during the piece.

Blakely herself states she is not particularly a fan of the genre, saying it is something that’s “not mine that I have made my own.” In many ways I agree, as I didn’t feel that the Wild West was consistently evoked for me. There are elements of ‘Wild West’ in the line dance, smashed bottles, riding, and lasso motions but the music and lighting, even costuming did not say Wild West to me. Pack, clan, tribal – any number of concepts that convey togetherness vs independence, connection vs isolation and the hive vs. the one, would have worked as a theme in its place. 

Credit: Arnaud Mbaki

The show feels like the end of a much larger piece of work. The costuming, rehearsal, creation, and stimulus are all things I’d be interested in understanding and exploring as each movement and sound feel so purposeful. I have to believe the whole piece was conceived with such care: Why pink and grey? Why the socks vs. bare feet? Why the points of nudity? I’m definitely intrigued.

Credit: Arnaud Mbaki

The performance was unusual, interesting, and intriguing. I don’t even really know if I liked it, but the performers were incredible, and it definitely took me outside of my comfort zone and understanding of what a dance performance should be.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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