In the Future, we should all watch this.
Last night I went to see a new dance theatre work, 2:1, by Kansaze Dance. Created by company director Rachael Nanyonjo and writer Emma Dennis-Edwards, 2:1 is a part play, part contemporary dance work that explores themes of gender, power and relationships from the perspective of arts graduates Alex (girl) and Alex (boy). The work follows the two characters from graduation, through job interviews, relationship worries and doubts about the future; the parallel paths show how many of their actions are shaped and influenced by gender stereotyping and traditional expectations of men and women. The piece is written from a feminist perspective, using real stories and experiences from the lives of the two female writers.
2:1 is a funny and touching work which highlights problems young people encounter in the struggle to fulfil ambitions of being rich, or to be “the woman my parents always wanted me to be”. These ambitions, often said straight to the audience, start the work off, and recur throughout, getting steadily less ambitious until at the end of the work Alex hopes that in the future she’ll be “living, not just surviving”. This constant redressing of hopes and dreams was a painfully accurate portrayal of the thoughts many graduates go through, and a recognition of what gets left behind when life isn’t witnessed through semesters and grade boundaries any more. While this was often quite uncomfortable (particularly watching the piece as a twenty-something arts graduate, I suppose I am their target market), it was often painfully funny. A particularly simple but beautifully realised idea was a solo section where dancer Chloe Bishop read a ridiculously lengthy and demanding person specification for an unpaid arts internship, with a slightly frantic dance solo to accompany. The fact that almost every audience member seemed to be laughing in recognition highlighted the sad fact that arts graduates are too used to doing work for free, and accepting it as an essential part of building experience. This alone, without the themes of gender, is a weighty topic which while approached lightly, gets under the skin and hasn’t quite left yet.
While some sections of the piece are light, the tone is straightforward and serious when dealing with issues of gender and the treatment of women. In a scene describing an incident where Alex is spiked by a stranger and blacks out on a night out, the text and movement becomes fragmented, showing an outer appearance of being grateful “nothing really happened”, and also highlighting the inner feeling that actually, feeling lucky about not being sexually assaulted on a night out is not acceptable. The portrayal of Alex all but apologising for even being shaken by this behaviour highlights its everyday presence in student and nightclub culture, making it so much more shocking.
The piece as a whole manages to span the genres of theatre and dance comfortably without compromising either; however occasionally I felt there was a lot of text where movement could have demonstrated the same idea in a shorter time and in a subtler fashion. The inner feelings of the characters, for example, were often fairly obvious and didn’t need to be made explicit in words. A moment where a simple statement is then contradicted and torn apart by a long, tense dance solo shows where the relationship between text and movement can really work. The creators of 2:1 want to tour the work in the future; I hope they are able to continue to develop what is already a very strong piece into a great one.