Saturday, October 26, 2019

To Da Bone – it’s dance Jim, but not as we know it – (La)Horde in Grand Opera House until Sat 26 Oct as part of #BIAF19

Each year festival director Richard Wakely brings something to Belfast International Arts Festival that is outside our expectations. This year, (La)Horde’s To Da Bone dance performance is vying to be that ‘extra’ piece.

Jumpstyle is not hip hop. It’s not street dance. It’s not contemporary dance.

It feels like Daft Punk meets dance. Very creative, very focussed, very eye-opening.

It can be danced to a techno beat. But its power and beauty is not diminished by dialling back the wattage and letting the bodies make the music.

Six high energy steps. Simple enough, until you realise the significant energy being expended, the sound of the impact on the floor, the height of the knees and limbs, the movement of the arms. Forwards. Backwards. Sideways. Never looking where they’re going. Never colliding.

The troupe explain during the hour-long show that the movement began in bedrooms, with individuals learning the dance from YouTube videos, practising in front of webcams in the privacy of their rooms, sharing with other underground enthusiasts online.

(La)Horde brought 11 dancers together – ten from across Europe, and one from Canada – and built To Da Bone around them. One was a plumber, another a welder, a teacher, a telecom technician. Now they’re also dancers.

The single woman placed on stage is a deliberate visual admission that jumpstyle has far to go in terms of gender equality. Her presence also nods to many other diversity challenges that the relatively young dance movement will tackle over the coming years. Yet the range of substyles within the genre, the native languages spoken, and the original training of the performers suggests that there is an intrinsic welcome to all.

There is no formal set other than the dancers and the harsh white light beaming down from above their heads. Eleven people fill the stage with colourful shell suit tops, jeans (which don’t rip despite the athletic actions) and flamboyant trainers.

The show starts with the formation of a phalanx. Attitude drips off each performer as they strut out from the bare wings and take their place. Then the movement starts. And for the next ten or more minutes, they become one, never breaking step, never slowing down, never ceasing moving.

Projecting the live feed from a video camera on stage ticks an oft-filled box on the modern theatre bingo sheet. Yet the splendour of how To Da Bone’s projector screen is rigged and (so exquisitely) derigged, the precision of the seemingly haphazard shots, and the outwardly spontaneous interaction of the cast with the camera is both stunning and neatly echoes the spread of jumpstyle across the world.

One final section with a techno Riverdance-like straight chain shows off the upper body power as dancers leapt in and out of the line with the precision of Batman. Members of the Aisling School of Irish Dance tried out the moves for a festival promo video, and their teacher has promised to carry on using the technique at their weekly lessons.

To Da Bone may be painful for the performers on stage, but it’s a powerful experience for the audience. The communal movement touched my emotional chords; the virtual connectedness now translated into a collective troupe spoke powerfully into Europe’s current political turmoil, while the exhaustion and deliberate “evaporation of aggression” seemed contemporary and healthy.

You might not see yourself as a dance enthusiast, but believe me, that’s not a barrier to appreciating the marvel that is To Da Bone as 11 people amaze and astound up on stage.

There’s one more performance of To Da Bone at the Grand Opera House on Saturday evening at 8pm, preceded by Staging Schiele in The MAC at 6pm.

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