We haven’t watched much contemporary dance so we were intrigued to see Venus at Bristol Old Vic. The quadruple bill of work is performed by Impermanence, a dance company based in Bristol’s The Mount Without, a converted grade II listed church.
This dance extravaganza, the company’s first show since the COVID-19 pandemic, opens with a film projected onto curtains which later become part of the live action performances.
Feral is based on the book Feral: Rewilding the Land, Sea and Human Life by George Monbiot, who appears in the film.
The audio-visual collaboration with composer Hollie Harding, featuring a stunning original recording from the London Symphony Orchestra, highlights our dwindling relationship with nature and the need to reconnect.
Impermanence co-founder Roseanna Anderson dances beautifully in the ruins of Tintern Abbey and a dirty suit wearing George Monbiot walks over flooded land. He drags his canoe while collecting discarded rubbish and mournfully picking up a dead bird.
It’s a very thought provoking opening, ahead of the other three pieces which are performed live on stage.
First is Enemy of the Stars, a dance adaptation of the play written by Wyndham Lewis in 1914, seven months before the outbreak of World War One. It is seen by many as the first Modernist play with links to Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, which was written 40 years later.
Two dancers, Kip Johnson and Kennedy Jr. Muntanga, rage against each other with some breathtaking movement in what Impermanence describes as “suicidal musings and desperation for meaning, echoing the way in which the Modernist movement sought to be reborn from the ashes of Victorian morality”.
From the dark themes of Enemy of the Stars, you get to have a laugh in the next piece.
Cosmic Yoghurt is about surrealist artist Leonora Carrington who had quite the adventurous life.
Featuring recordings of Carrington herself, which the three dancers (Mayowa Ogunnaike, Roseanna Anderson and Oxana Panchenko) brilliantly lip sync to, it features various costume changes including worm-like characters sliding around the stage which we particularly enjoyed.
It was thoroughly enjoyable although tricky to know what was going on, but as Carrington said herself in a clip played on stage: “You’re trying to intellectualise something, desperately, and you’re wasting your time!”
After the interval, the fourth and final piece is Venus.
The play meets dance performance tells the story of suffragette Mary Richardson who vandalised the Rokeby Venus painting at London’s National Gallery in protest at the arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the UK suffrage movement.
Richardson controversially went on to lead the women’s section of the British Union of Fascists, a fact she left out of her memoirs.
At the start of the show, director and performer Joshua Ben-Tovim informs us of what is to come with the amusing quip that “contemporary dance and narrative are not always the happiest of bedfellows”.
With a drop of “artistic license”, this version of Richardson’s life sees her discovering a fascist cabaret show behind the painting she attacks. It is here she meets British Union of Fascists leader Oswald Mosley.
With some very powerful dancing by Moseley’s ‘blackshirts’, we see Richardson won over by fascism. There’s also some more clever lip syncing to clips of Sue Lawley’s eye opening interview with Lady Mosley (wife of Oswald) on Desert Island Discs in 1989.
This was our first experience of Impermanence’s work. We loved it and look forward to seeing more.
All images by Jon Archdeacon