Review: The Chosen ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Dance, physical theatre and circus

The Chosen

Dance Base, v22

17:00 (ends 25 August, not Mondays)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)

I always look forward to Company Chordelia’s productions because they use such good music, often from live musicians. This afternoon I was most definitely not disappointed in the music – three of Strauss’ Four Last Songs, the lacrimosa from Mozart’s Requiem, a bit of Bach’s B Minor Mass and some lovely Latin American dance music. The dancing was technically superb and extremely impressive – but had I not read in the programme that The Chosen is “a deeply personal reflection on how we experience the time left to us” I would have been at a complete loss to understand what was happening on stage.

A bare stage, ice blue lighting, six silver cubes. The sound of a heart beating. The sound of the sea. Dancers who sat and stared at us before beginning to move towards and away from us, as if they had each jumped into a swimming pool from their shiny silver starting block and were swimming up and down the lanes of a pool, completely separate from each other. Exhausted, they stopped: and then, while five of them began one by one to jump and skip and sway and turn, the only noise the percussive slap of their feet, the sixth began an infinitely slow and precarious stagger towards us as the other five moved obliviously around him. At times the dancers sat, jiggling and twitching frenetically, then leapt to their feet and collapsed on the floor; at others they dragged their boxes around in a seemingly aimless and random fashion; there were some heart-stoppingly slow and precarious balances and movements on the very edges of the cubes; they moved around and froze into vignettes from their busy lives – rollicking at parties, strap-hanging on the bus – while one individual was picked out in a spotlight, isolated in the midst of togetherness.

There were some outstanding moments – one lone woman moved painfully slowly into an arabesque, a pirouette, a backwards balance, only to fall heavily to the floor and each time pick herself up, steady her breathing and try yet again with the same terrible result. One man collapsed, dying, only for his lover to pull him back upright and embrace him, again and again while the dying man smiled sweetly. A radiantly calm angelic figure moved round the twitching, anguished group, embracing them and giving them temporary relief from their suffering – but when she moved on, they fell back into their agony again. At one point the whole group howled silently together in between comforting or clutching desperately at each other.

I was impressed by the dance skills, especially the extremely slow movements and balances, and deeply moved by the music and the anguish portrayed, but disappointed not to find any sort of resolution within the piece. Was it simply trying to say “life’s a bitch and then you die, and you have no idea when”? Some people would think this is the case: I find it extremely bleak and somehow not in keeping with the emotions contained in the music, particularly the transcendent ecstasy of the Strauss songs, the exultant soprano soaring above the rich orchestral textures and singing of something beyond this mortal life.

I began to feel the piece was over-long and slightly repetitive – more swimming, more twitching: and then the piece stopped and it was all over. Which I guess might have been the message…? Someone younger than I or a knowledgeable dance enthusiast would probably view the piece completely differently. It’s certainly an impressive piece of choreography by Kally Lloyd-Jones, and the dancers virtually sweated blood: they well deserved the loud applause with which they were saluted at the end of the piece.

Mary Woodward