Deja Donne Dance Umbrella
The Place Theatre, London, England
October 6, 2006
Reviewed by Lizzy Le Quesne
Déjà Donné in My Name Is King
Photo by Bernie D. Meyer, courtesy Déjà Donné
With three vigorous male performers, a throng of local schoolchildren, and a posse of onstage technicians, Déjà Donné’s newest work outlines a valiant moral message. Committed to making dance-theater with overt humanitarian and political content, the troupe makes a bold and demonstrative attack on consumerism and materialism in My Name Is King.
Archetypal attitudes toward material goods and contemporary society are outlined by the three main characters: one frenzied rake; one gentle soul with long, flowing curls; and another (spectacularly performed by Pietro Micci) taut, shaven headed, and brutish. Through monologues spoken directly to the audience and interspersed with boisterous dance sections, social-minded idealism is set against personal greed and grandiose moral statements are made. Without a fluid or coherent narrative, the piece explodes with imagery and words.
Against a lurid set made from recycled commercial advertising (reminiscent of an eerie fairground), the figures hurl themselves and one another around the space with furious or passionate intent and announce their beliefs. “My name is—King!” bellows the brute, beating his chest and demanding more stuff to consume. Another intones sadly, “We have lost our way. We think too much, and feel too little.”
The language (scripted by nonnative English speakers) lacks subtlety, but the straightforward intent and strident use of theater as moral mouthpiece is exciting. Movement sections more abstractly explore related sensations: One man flips and writhes as though electrified, accompanied by gentle folk music; a duet escalates to bullying as a small man is forced to bear the weight of another for an extended period of time. In a fine, intriguing trio the men obsessively write invisible letters and words with their bodies on the floor, the walls, each other’s skin, and into space. A hand clasped to brow leaves the extended elbow scribbling in space, increasing in speed until the entire rippling body seems on fire. In striking unison and tight formation, the three men maniacally scrawl the written word, like slaves on a relentless treadmill, until they finally lift their clothing to discover moral dictates emblazoned directly onto their skin.
In contrast, other scenes are light, rhythmic, and sweetly humorous as the men manage to exchange ideas. And the whole is tempered by a mass of 10- and 11-year-olds who dress themselves and the space in homemade garlands, strung together from recycled clothes and garbage, and fearlessly shout down the bully. See www.danceumbrella.co.uk.