Róisín O’Brien at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre
August 27, 2016
A group of children in one-legged balances preside at the front of the stage. Another child clasps her hands over an older woman’s eyes. A scattered and abandoned urban environment is draped behind them. This is the tapestry of Raw; throughout which the overall image stays the same while its threads are alternately pulled taught and relaxed in different directions.
Presented by kabinet k, it is the children of Raw that hold the performance together. The work aims to show children growing up in difficult situations. Weaving in and out of threadbare curtains, metal drums with child-sized holes, and each other, they defiantly and unconsciously act out their games and rituals. They are playful, curious and protective; they alternately swat away or embrace each other; they refocus as a pack, switching their attention to something else on stage, before dispersing once again. Throughout, the maturity of their performance is evident. They have a sense of each other and their audience, do not seem phased by the large, empty space, and have the ability to move in sync with each other when required.
Choreographers Joke Laureyns and Kwint Manshoven have managed to latch onto the almost (but never fully) alien difference of a child’s emotional state to an adult’s. Consequence does not taint the joy received from risky movements, such as being swung around by your feet. The struggle to move a large, ratty mattress across the stage does not end in despair but in laughter. The children’s joy and appetite for life amongst the debris is beautiful to watch, although darker emotions of fear and anger in such situations are not presented as frequently or as fully.
Raw’s stage is flat, dusty, and scarce. The movement and interactions, while touching in their simplicity, do not deign to build in any way. The live music of guitarist and singer Thomas Devos at times eggs the children on, or lulls them to sleep, but comes to lack variety in melody, dynamics or timbre. As such, the piece’s stasis can at times turn to stagnation.
The children are accompanied on stage by two adult dancers, including Kwint Manshoven. At times, he moves as though hauntingly unaware of his body; he gazes on as it swings, disjoints and releases. How the adults relate to the children is never clear. While this uncertainty contributes to the piece’s fuzziness, such a lack of clear direction actually forces the piece to be a stark mirror of one’s own opinions and preconceptions on how children should be treated in society. Themes of protection, abuse, sex, family, love, deprivation, gender roles and responsibility are all ripe for picking depending on what the viewer expects or wants to see. Once the viewer realises they are picking, they can start to question it.