Exodus: dance-based performances inspired by Knights

Dane Hurst and Company
Dulwich Picture Gallery

The Deluge, 1920 Credit: Winifred Knights
Rehearsal Credit: Dolly Brown

South African-born, London-based dancer and Critics' Circle award-winning choreographer Dane Hurst returns to Dulwich Picture Gallery to present a unique evening of contemporary dance. With sixteen professional dancers, this newly commissioned work is inspired by a single painting, Winifred Knights’s apocalyptic masterpiece The Deluge, 1920, currently on display as part of Winifred Knights: 1899 - 1947.

This creative collaboration brings together set designs by Natalie Favaloro, costumes by Nicolai Hart Hansen and the recorded composition Floodplain by Kronos Quartet. Hurst’s image-inspired choreography and attention to detail tells the story of "escaping" figures on an eight-hour journey by foot and mule following a catastrophe. These chaotic scenes, as represented in the painting, draw parallels to contemporary events "that have been unfolding for past two years and indeed throughout history." Hurst writes.

On entry, guests are offered a selection of drawing materials and encouraged to sketch their own creative composition. Before the performance begins, a pre-show viewing of the Winifred Knights exhibition is also an opportunity to explore the differently shaped rooms and alcoves that the Gallery offers—an interesting theatrical space.

The performance imminent, Gallery staff invite audience members to position themselves standing (or sitting on provided chairs for those unable) on either side along a line of simple peasant-style folded clothes placed along the floor of the main Gallery. Stood barefoot behind her instruments, live musician Nao Masuda strikes a gong and Act One entitled Purgatory begins.

Dressed in undergarments, the dancers slowly file into the Gallery, interweaving between the folded clothes and each other. Focus held and fully immersed in their character, they move around the space, interacting with the audience, taking their hands (to priceless facial expressions) and lead them into adjoining rooms. Enticed to follow, the audience experience simultaneously vignettes in four different rooms.

The action then returns to the main Gallery with dancers assembling wooden pallets and vintage-style suitcases. Cree Barnet Williams and Robert Bridger dance a fearless duet accompanied by Nao Masuda’s percussion, who plays the drums and cymbals with increasing intensity mimicking the dynamics of their movement. The troupe then slowly exit the Gallery to the ethereal sound of the violin bow on the cymbal.

Act Two is styled Promised Land? Inspired by the dramatic chaos of the painting, the physical intensity of Hurst’s choreography, featuring both floor and partner work is danced to Kronos Quartet’s recorded score. The audience are seated on either side of the central space, likeable to a catwalk. The second half of the evening is performed down the length of the Gallery, giving the public an opportunity to see the dancers up close; not just the beauty of their classical extensions and arched feet, but sweat, bloodied scrapes, blisters and plasters—the pain of their vocation.

Hurst’s stamina-enduring creation hails talented graduates from Central School of Ballet, Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance and London Contemporary Dance School. Another young talent spotted in the audience is choreographer Charlotte Edmonds, further adding to the creative excitement of this unique theatrical experience.

Reviewer: Naomi Cockshutt

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