Directed by Deborah Light
Devised with and performed by Rosalind Hâf Brooks, Jo Fong and Eddie Ladd
Sound by Sion Orgon
Design by Neil Davies
Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, 24 January 2014
The labels we attach to contemporary performance are at best approximate, a shorthand to enable us to order and catalogue work. So Deborah Light’s show HIDE – reprised for a 2014 tour in Wales after premiering at Chapter in February 2013 – is described as dance, or perhaps dance-theatre. Nothing wrong with that, except that audiences have certain expectations of what dance will look like. Deborah Light and her performers confront this head-on. The show (there is an interesting word for something which explores aspects of concealment!) is described as a work which ‘gets under the skin of its creators, performers and audiences.’ I found it enormously thought-provoking. The three performers are quite explicitly there as themselves, not as characters, yet they choose what to reveal, in movement, vocalisation and, at one point, writing. I was completely enthralled throughout, though the first thing I said to my companion when we left the theatre was that I had found it ‘very difficult’. Certainly at the very beginning, the movement of Rosalind Hâf Brooks, to a loud and relentless soundtrack, disturbed me. Her persona came across to me as troubled and at times self-abusing. But this is not performance as personal confession – as the programme notes tell us, HIDE blurs the boundaries between autobiography and fiction.
The three performers interact in unexpected ways. One of these is that they exchange clothing at times. The temptation in watching is to seek to understand, but I think it is important to resist this, and to engage in a receptive way with the piece, to remember what Peter Brook said in The Empty Space (1968) about the active role of the audience in the theatre, as understood by the French in their expression for what we call in English ‘attending a performance’ – ‘assister à une pièce‘. I know that all performers are acutely aware of the response of the audience – not just their audible sounds like laughter or the warmth of applause at the end – but the intangible, what one might call an alchemical reaction. As Jung said, ‘The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.’
So the exchange of clothing is something that happens. It does not have to have a reason. It is enough that it raises questions. For example, do our clothes define us? If we put on one another’s clothes do we conceal our true selves? Or are we interchangeable? And if we take our clothes off are we totally visible? Or can we still hide? One arena explored by Deborah Light and her performers is our animal nature. At times, one of them sniffs at another in a way which is off-limits for humans in everyday society, but commonplace in the wider animal kingdom. And we are all animals underneath our clothes.
This piece felt to me animalistic throughout and we are presented with images of animal slaughter. When Eddie Ladd draws a vertical line down her naked torso she presents herself for slaughter, nay crucifixion, and at that moment Sion Orgon uses a burst from J S Bach’s B Minor Mass like a sudden dark blossom; beautiful but shocking.
Sion Orgon’s sound score for the piece is otherwise original and somewhat Cageian in that he uses the sounds created during the development of the piece. Sounds of doors slamming, marbles rolling across the floor, taps and toilets are amongst those he has processed and manipulated. Some are hidden, others more or less revealed, adding another layer of richness to the piece.
The monochromatic design by Neil Davies is stark. The performers turn lights on and off to highlight and focus our attention on particular aspects of the work by spotlighting or creating Hitchcockian long shadows as in the crucifixion sequence.
Although there are times when the three performers move together, their individual gestures are more powerful. I was particularly drawn to – sometimes mesmerised by – Eddie Ladd’s sharp movement language. She transformed herself into shapes of strangeness, while remaining completely herself.
And then there was the component of voice – sometimes spoken, sometimes screamed in a release that is rarely on offer in human society, at least not in the west! At one point, what could perhaps not be spoken was written down on the floor. At another point Eddie Ladd spoke at the most distant point from the audience and with her face to the wall of something important and till then shameful, so hidden.
Near the end of the piece Jo Fong articulates the issue of expectation – perhaps it was not what you were expecting, she says, but more as a thought spoken to herself than directly to the audience. Personally I was glad to have my expectations confounded by a piece which used the languages of movement and sound to make me think a great deal about the issues of hiding and revelation, even though it was not (as I might have wished) emotionally-involving for me. Nor did it supply any answers to the questions raised. Except, perhaps, that life goes on, indeed that re-birth is possible after trauma, and that there is always more to explore and think about.