Direction & Choreography: Andrea Walker
Composer: Norvydas Genys
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
201 Dance Company’s latest production SKIN is presented as part of Queer Contact Festival, celebrating LGBT arts and culture in Greater Manchester. As Contact itself is closed for major refurbishment this year’s Queer Contact – and the rest of their 2018 programme – has been redistributed to other venues in Greater Manchester. For SKIN it is the turn of Sale Waterside to host an event.
The company, founded in 2014 by dancer and choreographer Andrea Walker, presented their previous work Smother at Queer Contact in 2017. Smother focused on young LGBT relationships. SKIN takes the ambitious step of exploring gender, telling the story of a young trans man and his physician and emotional journey to discover a body that feels like home.
That 201 are fundamentally working with urban dance styles makes not only their subject matter intriguing but also their success in dealing with it: although what better way of communicating with a young audience than through urban or street dance? SKIN is however far from just a show for young audiences – and more than street dance.
Walker’s gift to the genre is his ability to convey narrative and to use movement to convey emotional and psychological content: something contemporary dance thrives at but urban dance often struggles with, as often it fails to effectively connect mind and body and becomes mired in its own set narratives.
Walker, assisted by dramaturg Kit Redstone, effectively delineates the way in which gender is a costumed performance that begins with childhood and is policed and judged by parental expectation and peers. Michaela Cisarikova fully realises the inner conflict of a boy pressured into being a girl she does not recognise within herself. Her expressive acting and complex physicality holds the focus of the narrative whether she is dancing her torment or waiting mutely for the blows to strike. Four peers – Luca Catoggio, Maximillian Jarish, Valerie Ebuwa and Amy Lucas – demonstrate the pressure to conform and – dressed almost identically – punch home the ways in which gender expression is a code that is set and has to be broken and reassembled by people seeking to transition from one to another or to a place in between.
Lara McCabe is a another presence in the life, representing both parental expectations of conformity and an idealised representation of fully-realised femininity. A further dimension is added by the inclusion of a child – played tonight by Candy Dickinson – who represents the boy/girl within and without that accompanies Cisarikova on her journey to her true self: the child (s)he has to love and accept to move forward.
A diverse and intelligent score by Norvydas Genys cleanly underpins the narrative – sometimes punchy and violent and at other times speculative and interrogative – and is matched beat for beat by Walker’s detailed musicality and character-driven movement: which the cast hit with impressive precision, clarity and intent. The effective lighting design also supports the realisation of the narrative.
SKIN is an admirably clear and ultimately moving exploration of a situation now widely recognised but still little understood by people unaffected or untouched by transgender issues. SKIN is successfully entertaining and exhilarating as a piece of dance theatre and remains authentic and sensitive to the subject matter, drawing an intensely personal and relatable portrait of one person whose inner voice is repeating the mantra ‘this is not my body’.
SKIN challenges the audience to think about the ways we all judge the gender expression of others and the authenticity of that performance, even those we know and love, and manages to do it in a completely entertaining and emotionally-authentic way.
Reviewed on 9th February 2018 | Image: Chris Nash