The crowd assembles and the lights dim. A large projected seascape fills one whole wall of the venue and the sounds of the sea surround us. This is the start to Where Mermaids are Born, a contemporary dance and video art play that addresses gender identity issues, highlighting the discrimination and violence directed at the Trans community.
The storytelling on screen is created by the Spanish visual artist, Stambolsky, who bathes us in colour and imagery in a well-crafted way, sometimes adding folk or classical music over what the room is watching and at other times including voice over to move the narrative along.
What the story or message actually is, is somewhat unclear. While the video submerges the audience into the myth of mermaids, two performers (one sea creature, one man) circle, join hands and spin in front of the shifting scenes. One performer states “It is painful to be stuck in a place you do not belong”. It is an enigmatic proclamation that wouldn’t be out of place in a David Lynch movie.
As the night goes on we are introduced to the actors several times as they sway a similar dance together expressing different moods in harmony with the music. The artist playing the mermaid does several slow dances in front of the screen in half-darkness. She moves her upper body exceptionally well and it would have benefited the production for her to be spotlighted as those gathered did have difficulty seeing her.
In the middle of the piece a vox pop style section is played asking people on a beach what they think of mermaids. Various answers are suggested, most see them as a force for good and beauty; one American group of friends insist they are real. This clip is followed by images from a commercial fishing boat showing suspect fishing practices that many find barbaric. In this section a slide is flashed up informing the audience of how many trans people had been killed in 2017/18. The number is horrific and the moment is genuinely heartbreaking.
The show continues with more symbolism linking Sirens to transgender people, a metaphor which seems a little stretched. A line that stands out is: “Many mermaids were killed due to sexism and misogyny”. It is a line, like most of the play, which leaves the public mildly perplexed as to what is going on.
Although Where Mermaids are born is a deeply confused piece with a jumble of competing ideas, its heart is firmly in the right place, promoting love, harmony, and inclusivity.
Reviewed on 18th October.