Monumental is monumental

The Holy Body Tattoo at the Edinburgh Playhouse
August 9, 2016

Róisín O’Brien

Godspeed You! Black Emperor inspire such a loyal following, it’s probable many in the audience at Monumental saw the dancing by The Holy Body Tattoo as incidental. The band manages, however, to remain an eerie presence behind the backdrop and keep up a driving pace that pushes to breaking point. That said, given the pace and skill of these dancers, had Godspeed played faster, I imagine the dancers would have eagerly accepted the challenge.

Stuck on pedestals, the dancers’ use of their legs is limited, bringing a sense of restriction and pull to the piece. They start as rigid statues, variously contorted; movement starts to hit through their arms, heads and into the spaces behind.  The gestures are frustrated, tense, punchy. There is little release. The choreographic style investigated by the creators has an amazing ability to move from stasis to quick, staccato movement. There is no sense of prediction – one moment they’re still, the next moment is over in a flash. I felt I was back on the tube in London, crammed in with other people, pent up, just about to crack.

Made a number of years ago, Monumental is set in a dystopian place; the creators feel now that some of that dystopia has come to pass. The piece looks at compulsion, group mentalities and their fickleness. The subtle shifts between different group relationships prove the most interesting, moving from clinical, scratching movements through to brash sexuality and uncompromising violence.

MonumentalPhoto Yannick Grandmont
Photo Yannick Grandmont

The piece loses pace when the dancers suddenly come off their pedestals – I would have liked more time to see that change develop – but the duets and contact work that follows are mesmerising. Speed, agility and the explosion of stifled urges, all channel into rolls, leaps and turns that are risky yet assured in their completion. The timing and skill of the dancers is impeccable, even if you can start to see them tire near the end.

Godspeed’s music proves the galvanising force. The band is only moments away from whipping the audience into a frenzy of a rock concert. This is a testament both to the dancers’ focus, who don’t get lost in the swelling dynamics of the soundtrack, and to the choreographic choice to let the dancers take over that role of expression. The same unity between the dancers and their environment can’t necessarily be seen in some of the projected text or visuals. The use of the projector is at times harmonious, at other times jarring and elsewhere is simply lost in either the music or the dance: I often found I had missed the start of one particular quote. The text written by Jenny Holzer proves disconcerting, however, and feeds into the piece’s surveying of social malaise.

Monumental felt like it had a few false ends. While one is deliberate, a provocation of the audience, the piece slightly drags on a little bit. Nonetheless, Monumental does not hold back. No hiding for the dancers, no compromise in the music: brutal, honest, raw.