On Thursday evening, The Mill Arts Centre presented three dance works for the Dancin’ Oxford 2022 Festival.  First, local dance group The Remarkables raised the curtain with a work created during one of the Chhaya Collective’s ‘Wild Workshops for Women’.  Five mature dancers used rhythmic, grounded movement to tell stories that connected their day-to-day lives with their inner feelings and the joyful experience of discovering and releasing them.  There followed two works on related themes danced by the Chhaya Collective:  Hymnos, for two dancers, and Khaos for six dancers and three musicians.

The theatrical tension as we waited for the lights to go up on Hymnos gave me goose bumps.  It was just possible to discern in the darkness the outline of a woman, surrounded by a huge skirt.  Dancer Jenna Anne Nathan slowly came into view, poised on high like an ancient priestess surrounded by flames, from which emerged the second dancer, Gintare Geltyte.  They danced back-to-back, their long hair flying, tearing apart, but glued together; or facing and wrapping their flailing arms around each other, arching backwards as if trying to escape.  Separated, they seemed to embody a fight between an angry inner-self (Geltyte) and the socially conforming outer woman (Nathan).  After Geltyte had uttered three anguished screams, they came together, finding resolution as they clasped each other face-to-face whirling round and round, supporting each other’s weight as they spun together.

The third work of the evening was Khaos, a dance about conformity, individuality and resistance, in which the dancers seemed to be in conversation with the musicians.  Five dancers, uniformed in grey tabards, gradually assimilated a sixth dancer into their group.  At first she seemed to find it fun as she adopted the grey clothing, before succumbing to their collective control as they travelled from side-to-side across the stage, drumming their feet on the floor and facing the audience.  The dancers verbalised the pressures on women by mumbling and chanting their personal ‘head-tapes’:  ‘I must say “yes”;  I must say “yes”;  I must say “yes”’, one of them repeated again and again.  In another scene, Geltyte rushed from dancer to dancer as they lay on the floor dragging them to their feet, before turning away to the musicians and urging them to play more vigorously, only to find the dancers had collapsed again while her back was turned.  It was an impossible task, followed by an extraordinarily beautiful scene in which violinist Fiona Barrow walked among them bathed in golden light like an angel.  The evening ended with phenomenal energy as all six dancers, their hair loose, and freed from their drab grey overalls, brought the performance to a tumultuous climax which received a standing ovation.

It was a huge treat to see a new, truly communicative, dance work that was fully costumed and professionally lit, with live original music.  Chhaya Collective, which is led by Kay Crook, is based in Exeter, and this was their first visit to Oxfordshire:  I hope that they will come again soon.

Maggie Watson

13th March 2021