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Refugees of the Septic Heart



According to the programme blurb, Tom Dale's latest creation Refugees of the Septic Heart "reflects the heart beat of a nation as it perches on the brink of change." A geometric set with projections by Barret Hodgson and soundscape by Sam Shackleton give the 4 male and 2 female performers an extremely busy environment in which to dance. Dressing the cast in rags (was this just urban trendy? or just literal post-apocalyptic) destroyed some of the lines and the extremely dim lighting at the beginning and end pieces made it almost impossible to see the subtleties in a gesture or a glance that made the central sections so interesting.

That notwithstanding, the piece was extremely engaging. The 6 excellent dancers were absolutely committed to a challenging piece and a really good use of facial expression to indicate relationships between individual brought all the scenes emotionally to life. With different costuming and brighter lights it could have signified almost anything however. The stated "search for a society freed of greed, manipulation and control" was imprecisely portrayed and I'm not sure it was even necessary to the success of the piece to have defined such an overarching (and rather grandiose) theme.

The piece starts with a solo section for male dancer and this was not really developed in any way. I kept trying to find a link to him and the rest of the group, was he a leader? A scout into a new planet? There was no gestural links that I could see (although this was the dark section...) that contextualised this solo character within the later arriving group. And so the solo just became a disconnected preface rather than integrating into the whole which was a shame.

At the end of the show one of the audience members turned to a friend sitting nearby and explained to him that "every gesture doesn't have to mean something." And I think she is right, in some cases. However once a choreographer has set up a paradigm of "there are personal relationships in this piece" the fact that some of the characters then sit on each other and some don't, or some characters sit in front of a giant screen and others don't becomes important in the audience's mind. Social psychologists Heider and Simmel posited in the 1940s that humans are wired to see patterns and relationships even when none is intended and I think choreographers ignore that at their peril. The dance would have to be utterly abstract (a la Merce Cunningham) to make it easier for the perceiver's brain to let go of its habit of automatically projecting relationships. And even then, when two of Merce's dancers' pathways coincide, even aleatorically, it's still hard not to fantasise some kind of relationship between them.

Overall Verdict: I don't think it portrayed very well what it said it did, but it's still excellent.
Worth Seeing?: Absolutely