Normative? is a piece with a dark and difficult context – it references recent persecution of the LGBTQ+ community in Chechnya, Russia, and asks a big question: “Is being normal really worth it?”. Thomas Page and his company certainly bought out the intensity of the subject matter, and there were thoughtful, touching details, such as the use of 27 dancers referencing 27 young gay men who were killed in 2017, and a moving soundtrack of spoken word including interviews and personal accounts.  The choreography mixed freeform semi-improvised movements with a structured style which had clear influence from vogueing.  The piece moved through various scenes – the whole group began by walking the stage as a sea of similar motion, but gradually dissipated into more markedly individual and contrasting characters.

Near the end a sense of rawness emerged; until this point, there was certainly exploration of the question of normality and group identity versus individuality, but the characters had shown a sense of cool, detached confidence which didn’t portray struggle or suffering.  However as the range of motion became more extreme there emerged a feeling of realistic desperation, as dancers threw themselves to the floor with audible bangs and contorted into unnatural shapes.  The finale in comparison was in calm, controlled unison – the coordination and return to the vogue-styled movements was an abrupt change of pace but gave time to reflect on the themes of the piece.

The costumes too went through a transition, starting as a matching uniform of unisex black and gradually changing to colourful skirts and shirts. This hinted at a journey through blank anonymity to extrovert individuality, which I didn’t read as an exact correlation with the narrative of the choreography, but was nonetheless a detail which added an extra layer to the performance.

Clearly the subject was close to the hearts of both Thomas and the other performers, who shared their own stories during an insightful Q&A at the end. Thomas is to be commended for taking on such weighty subject matter with passion and skill, and I would certainly be interested to follow this piece through its next stages of development.

Jess Ryan-Phillips

3rd July 2018

 

 

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