The Rye cultural scene tends to slow down for a while after the end of the arts festival, but last weekend, and again on October 26 and 27, performance art with a difference is hitting the town.
Transcendence, described in its publicity material as an immersive dance experience from the Edifice Dance Theatre, exploring themes of gender, sexuality, morality and death, had come to Alex MacArthur’s wonderfully restored medieval monastery in Conduit Hill.
Although the production, itself, is not new, having been performed in London and locally earlier this year, the variation of an immersive experience and the use of such an atmospheric venue, certainly was.
And it was the perfect place – indeed had it not been for the energy and passion of the dancers, the building could well have been the star of the show. The dance was loosely based on Oscar Wilde’s Salome, the story of the niece of Herod (who, just by the way, had murdered his brother, Salome’s father, and married her mother – they knew how to do a cheap quickie divorce in those days).
Salome fell in love with John the Baptist (called Jokanaan in Wilde’s play) when she found him, a prisoner, hands chained to a ceiling and with his feet balancing on a table, in the dungeon.
After a spectacular dance together, mixing passion, violence and pure eroticism, in a failed attempt to seduce him, and which brought a whole new meaning to table dancing, she left him (in the play, swearing to kiss him at some point, whether he liked it or not) and only saw him again after a drunken banquet at which her lecherous uncle – in a wonderful display of lust and pure evil, had promised her anything she wanted if she would dance (basically a strip tease) for him.
She asked for Jokanaan who was duly brought forth only to be killed by Herod (no decapitation in this version) and, as he was lying dead on the banqueting table, Salome demonstrated her talent for necrophilia by carrying out her promise to kiss him. Herod, enraged with jealousy and horror, promptly kills her.
This brief account (and leaving out much detail) of a variation of the well-known story, however, is no spoiler as it hardly begins to describe the intensity and visual impact of the performance. The energy of the dancers, the always-implied and often overt decadence and venality of the court to which the background of the building, despite its original purpose, seemed to lend itself, kept the audience captivated as we moved from room to room
The Monastery was such a perfect setting. With its beams and panelled walls, candlelit rooms, music, sometimes light, more often menacing and with many props from Alex MacArthur’s showrooms, it became a stunning and almost sinister background to the decadence of the court of King Herod.
Each scene was played out in a different room, with the audience, split into small groups, being led from room to room and invited to sit, often amongst the dancers, as if involved in the action.
Some sitting at the banqueting tables and given wine and on another occasion, in Salome’s bedroom, she presented this writer with a pheasant’s tail feather, only, a little later to snatch it back with a look so smouldering, that it took some time to recover and regain one’s composure.
An unusual one and a quarter hours certainly, and definitely not a standard modern dance production and I cannot deny that it took a little while to get into it. But once grabbed by the action, skill in story-telling and constant movement of the dancers as the plot began to unfold, it became absorbing and compulsive and with riveting performances, particularly from the agonised Jokanaan, promiscuous Salome and the thoroughly evil and debauched Herod, but also a strong supporting troupe, with all able to act as well as dance.
There are four more performances on Saturday and Sunday October 26 and 27 at 2:30pm and 7pm on each day and still a few tickets available, price £59.88 which can be booked online here for an experience that, I can promise, is like no other.
Image Credits: John Minter , Jordan Wilson .