Edinburgh Fringe 2013
A contemporary arts piece that fuses dance with sound and projected video, Sluts of Possession is the work of Dancer/Choreographers Rosie Kay and Guilherme Miotto in collaboration with filmmaker Louis Price. The piece explores the ‘civilised’ take on ‘primitive’ cultures, the links and differences between rational thought and primal emotional energy, and deconstructs the documentary eye across a range of movement that is violent, sensual, frustrated, and unrestrained.
Performed in the infinite calm of the Dance Base studio, Sluts of Possession is a violent eruption, a disruption of flat space and straight lines. Performed by dancer/choreographers Rosie Kay and Guilherme Miotto, the piece exists in the sparse landscape of Peter Missotten’s minimal and evocative designs. Projections play across multiple surfaces –frenetic, chaotic, and worrying, the videos are made up of heavily manipulated archival imagery from the Pitt Rivers Museum (University of Oxford) juxtaposed against a variety of animated drawn images. Much of what is on display is quite abstract, inviting us to enter the piece from within our own individual frames of reference. We find ourselves not so much trying to make sense of the images as to simply allow our minds to interpret them as they will, focused through the lens of our own preconceptions and prejudices.
The movement is direct and unsettling, the audience are placed squarely within the spotlight of the performers’ bewildered, uncomprehending gazes. Theirs is not a world of smartphones and LinkedIn accounts, but one of movement, expression, and the corporality of the body. Miotto’s torso is painted by tattoos and both wear coloured, brief garments, tightly hugging their forms to reveal rippling muscle, jiggling flesh, and sinews stretched tight as they fling themselves through the space. Our eyes are drawn to their animal parts. Backs hunching, legs bunching up to release pent energy before collapsing, spent and quivering, to the floor. Their bodies leave archaic mosaics of sweat on the marley, queer trails that linger in the semi-dark as ephemeral hieroglyphs before evaporating. Their faces are painted, white tribal lines tracing across features act as masks, separating performer from performed, reminding us of the differences between us and them. We are reminded of ghostly images of tribal rites, alien faces that are easy to categorise as ‘other’; to dismiss upon a raft of savage disregard. We can pity them or envy their freedom, but never empathise with them. They are, by definition, not us.
The movement is contained within a delicate construction of sound – haunting, repetitive, droning sound. Chanting, singing, guttural throat sounds and music, distorted by time and static, the melodies travel to us from mountain and savannah, from village and from field. The calls urge on the movement and mock us, the privileged uncomprehending. We have spent our money for the opportunity to observe these rituals so distant from our consciousness. There is novelty in the looking. We will talk about what we’ve seen later, perhaps over a glass of wine at a boutique eatery on the Grassmarket. But actually, in this moment, we are the outsiders. The uninitiated in a world that is dangerous and frightening; one our cushioned histories have ill-prepared us for.
Kay and Miotto whirl, beat the air, and spasm, somehow neutral, dispassionate, and exhausted. Their features are contorted neither by joy nor by ecstasy, they are driven on in their acts by the sound, the image, and the rhythms of their bodies. It’s frustrating watching them. They punish themselves, taking the movement to extremes, mimicking animal motion at times, they scoot across the floor, crawl, and gyrate, their motion crackling with a sexual energy that is undeniable. There is a raw quality to the dance; it’s unfiltered, uncensored.
All good art makes us feel. It’s not always pleasurable; sometimes it’s downright difficult, but it strikes a chord somewhere, puts us in touch with something inside ourselves, and connects us with the wider world. Sluts of Possession is uncomfortable. It’s wearying, as it takes us out of ourselves and repositions us. Kay and Miotto are run ragged through their exertions, and we are given no escape from the vibrant, bleak world they plunge us into. The dancers are silent, apart from the sounds of their own breathing, and the occasional, inescapable ragged sounds the movement draws from them. We are silent, too.