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SIFA 2019: Crowd by Gisèle Vienne (Review)

The lines of desire are powerfully drawn over one crazy night at the rave. 

While often considered a liminal space of chaos and pure freedom of expression, French choreographer Gisèle Vienne has managed to temper that manic energy and craft a scintillating, multi-layered dance work with Crowd, as we watch the lives of 14 dancers unfold over one night at a rave.

Crowd dedicates itself entirely to the 1990s techno rave scene it takes inspiration from, with the Victoria Theatre’s stage covered by a layer of soil, packets of chips and rubbish visible at the back of the stage to immerse audiences into the open field the show is set in. The dancers are dressed in casual clothing, donning tube tops, windbreakers, denim and track pants reminiscent of quintessential 90s style. In its staging, Crowd perfectly captures a night out anyone who’s ever been to a rave, or even a club, might be familiar with; the dancers become an expression of id as they let go entirely of their inhibitions and reveal their inner selves, lost to the world of techno anthems ranging from Underground Resistance to Jeff Mills.

Visually arresting from the moment it begins, Vienne’s choreography sees the dancers’ movements unfold in temporally fascinating ways, with time itself seeming to change as we watch the revellers dance. In its opening scene, dancers walk onstage in slow motion, revealing an excruciatingly precise amount of control in each performer, right down to the way they lift a cup to drink from it, the languid pace rebelliously not conforming to the much higher BPM music that plays. During the actual rave itself, the dancers sync up to the music and the individual beats and refrains, lunging forward before freezing, or getting solo numbers where they’re allowed to let loose and let their body free. Some of the most emotive moments are when the entire ensemble moves in unison to perform the same move, like how in a club everyone knows exactly what to do and feels the same way when the same poignant beat drops. There is something achingly powerful about watching them display such energy and precision in each moment, simultaneously capturing the joy and discipline of dance.

Much like an actual club, the dancers of Crowd are not merely dancing for the sake of it, and each one has their own individual storylines that develop over the course of the entire performance. Packets of potato chips explore, mud fights and altercations ensue, relationships are forged and broken, and friendships are tested. The beauty of Crowd lies in how unfettered and naturally these scenes unfold, with Vienne having managed to distil the emotions driving each movement that naturally spread and resonate with the entire theatre. In particular, towards the end of the dance, as the ravers begin to sober up, there is a kind of shared understanding amidst them all that the night is about to end, as much as they try to hold on to that feeling so desperately. There is so much beauty in the heightened emotional state of the rave, made visible via dance and surprise special effects, notably a scene where, in their exhaustion, it seems as if the dancers are practically dissolving into smoke as the last of their adrenaline runs out.

Crowd is an undeniably moving visual and audio feast that takes the familiar setting of a rave and elevates it to a spiritual, emotional journey. As the final beats begin to slow and the ravers begin to leave one by one, we see the last vestiges of the crowd thin out, the jackets left behind picked up one by one, and that one lone dancer who refuses to go, who stays on to dance to the silent beat and thump-thumpin’ in his own head. Somehow, even after they’ve left, there’s an ethereal energy that remains in the near empty field, the very souls of the dancers still lingering on as if their lives were tied to the rave itself. This is more than just an event – it’s a celebration of a lifestyle where revellers transcend their mortality for a few hours, night after glorious night on the crowded dance floor.

Photo Credit: Barbara Braun: MuTphoto

Performance attended 2/6/19

Crowd played at the Victoria Theatre from 1st to 2nd June 2019.

The 2019 Singapore International Festival of the Arts played from 16th May to 2nd June 2019. For more information and the full lineup of shows, visit their website 

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