Don’t let the title fool you, you may not actually get to be seated. At least not at first. Queuing outside the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room, the audience are directed to a stern looking pair, checking and stamping tickets and instructing selected audience members into a holding area, the rest of us are directed to enter the haze-filled space. Secretly a little thankful I was not selected for said holding area, the answer to my question of ‘how are site specific-loving New Movement Collective going to adapt to the rigidity of a theatre?’ was soon to be answered – with their usual innovation, adaptation and choreographic creativity.
Expanding the stage into the auditorium through an intricately designed wooden platform above sections of the seats, the dancers are already in position, above and amongst us, as we are seated. In their first work for a stage, Please Be Seated sees New Movement Collective anything but confined, not only moving beyond the perceived confines of a stage but also the expectations of dance theatre itself.
Created in collaboration with furniture designer Jutta Friedrichs and lighting designer Yaron Abulafia, the stage is dressed with a collection of high wooden seats, benches and weighty Perspex backed chairs. The dancers – and initially, selected audience members – move amongst the furniture, interacting with and rejecting its purpose, rarely obeying the chairs intention, to be simply sat on. Used as a barrier, a hiding place, as percussion, new purpose is given to these everyday objects through their physicality and that of the dancers.
Such defiance runs alongside the distinctly authoritarian feel to the narrative, as the uniformed dancers perform their drills, loudspeakers echo around our wooden chamber and those that try to step out of the order are punished. Just as our view is sometimes restricted by the furniture, so is their movement, creating a battle between the dancers and the furniture itself, becoming a charismatic performer.
A veritable supergroup of dancers hailing from the likes of Wayne McGregor|Random Dance, English National Ballet and Rambert, the company’s collective talent is only exacerbated by their creativity and capacity to appropriate the creativity of others, as demonstrated in their architectural collaborations. Accompanied by an atmospheric soundscape by sound artist Ben Houge, the rhythms of wood reverberate throughout, from the sound of the chair hitting the ground, the hand of a dancer hitting a chair, the musicians hand hitting his instrument.
With the Purcell Room stripped back to its bare wooden walls, the performance space is deconstructed, as is our perception of the ‘site specific’ in this clever and inventive work from this invigorating company.
New Movement Collective’s Please Be Seated took place on 11 & 12 November at: