We Are As Gods – Battersea Arts Centre, London

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Choreographer: James Cousins

We Are As Gods is probably the most ambitious show since lockdown. It fills every nook and cranny of the BAC with poetry and dance. With no set route around the sprawling Victorian building, the audience is free to make its own journey along attic passageways, down elegant staircases and into exhilarating ensemble dance pieces in the Grand Hall.

Dancers dressed in white, looking like angels, may lead you down arched corridors, vogueing in slow-mo as they go or other performers dressed in primary colours may beckon you through doors to watch waltzes and tangos. Eye contact is key here. Each dancer will catch your eye and hold it. If you’ve craved human contact through the lockdowns and periods of social distancing this intimate show feels restorative and redemptive.

Turn one way and you come across an archipelago of rooms, each holding a couple slow-dancing to a George Michael song or turn another way to find yourself alone in a room full of balloons. Or perhaps remain in a single room, and let the dancers come to you. Amid the soundtrack, which seems like it is pumped into every space, are words by poet and playwright Sabrina Mahfouz, and spoken by Racheal Ofori. The text is a paean to club culture. The club is often a safe space, perhaps more safe than the four walls to which we’ve been confined. As the drop kicks in, Mahfouz and Ofori proclaim, your heart will burst, you heart will burst.

And it will. James Cousins’ choreography is eclectic, but always joyous, cheeky, sensual. The group numbers contain flashes of Botis Seva as the angels scurry low down on the floor on their toes, or suddenly all 70 dancers will break out into a tribal stomp very much like that of Hofesh Shechter. It brings whoops of delight from the audience. The soundtrack, a collaboration between Torben Lars Sylvest and Pär Carlsson, is sometimes a pulsating hum and, at others, music you might hear in a club. It clings to you like the dry ice that seeps into each room. The light design in the Grand Hall is beautiful, catching dancers in bright squares or throwing them into shadows.

Of course, this is not the first time that the BAC has opened it secrets spaces and unlocked its closed doors. In 2007, immersive theatre company Punchdrunk told the story of The Masque of the Red Death using every corner of the building in thrilling ways and changing the course of theatre’s history as they did so. We Are As Gods is on the same scale.

With The Grand Hall emptied of seats, and the audience standing on all four sides, the space is the perfect venue for modern dance. Why do we so often view dance from back row stalls far away from the stage when we could be this close, in touching distance? Sadler’s Wells needs to watch out. Dance may be moving South.

Runs until 10 October 2021

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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One Comment

  1. This was the first time I’ve ever been to anything like this, and I was mesmerised. Your review captures the magic really well. But where do I find more similar experiences? Like, nothing too mass-market but as charming as this was.

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