Impending Storm

David Toole, Lucy Hind and Remix Dance Company
Remix Dance Company
Purcell Room Southbank Centre

David Toole and Mpotseng Shuping in Impending Storm
David Toole and Andile Vellem in Impending Storm Credit: Tim Cross

A double bed, bodies and pillows litter the floor, sombre lighting (Lee Curran), and a wheelchair hooked over a trapeze hangs on the back wall. Long strips of white cloth, entwining, binding, are bondage ropes, cradles and pulleys to lift the body. Contact work makes light of body lifts (he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother), but the choreography and structure lack cohesion, as do our night-time dreams.

Are we misreading this surreal nightmare of trauma and conflict? A woman in the shadows has a shaking fit; two women fight over a man. Are the male duets contravening local taboos in any way? Is it lovemaking or taking by force?

Jumbled narratives collide and meld—is this a tale of carers and lovers? Love and tenderness win the day. What seemed ominous turns into a joyous Jean Vigo pillow fight and feather snow storm dream, the cast and musicians together on the bed, their base, their safe home.

Part of the short Unlimited (‘new work by deaf and disabled artists’) season at the Southbank comes Impending Storm, a one-hour dance drama from ‘South Africa’s only professional integrated dance company, Remix, to explore the boundaries of physicality, culture and stories’, which premiered at the International Dance Festival Birmingham 2012.

I must confess, what drew me to this production was the participation of David Toole, who first came to my notice in Lloyd Newson’s (DV8) The Cost of Living, which was originally commissioned for Sydney 2000 Olympic Arts Festivals.

Then I was blown away by his power, charisma, and presence, and I still am in awe of his talent. He has beautiful expressive arms and hands. Long caressing seductive fingers that belie their strength; long arms that give him the dexterity to move with stylish grace and speed.

Of course, this ties in neatly with London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, not only because Unlimited is principally funded by the National Lottery through the Olympic Lottery Distributor and is delivered in partnership with London 2012, Arts Council England, Creative Scotland, Arts Council of Wales, Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the British Council, but also because, if any of you watched the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games, you would have seen David Toole performing on the runway.

Freelancers Toole and Lucy Hinds (able-bodied, but as she said in the after-show talk, we all have common sorrows that unite) have collaborated with Remix, a team of ‘able-bodied and disabled’ artists from the UK and South Africa.

There has recently been some debate as to whether disabled is a suitable term anymore in the light of the Paralympian achievements, and, watching this integrated dance drama, disabled does seem outmoded. As with colour blind casting, the integration of abilities, cultures and continents has been a slow process, but its time is surely here.

Impending Storm, produced with the support of DanceXchange, workshopped in Cape Town in 2011, at the Southbank for only two shows, addresses many issues of gender, ability, colour, and prejudice. But it is the dancing performances that have to carry the patchwork of stories (‘stories that we tell and the stories that we are’) told in snatches.

There is no choreographer credited, so one assumes the piece was improvised individually and collectively and then shaped by the director, Mark Storor, who is categorically not a choreographer, as he told us repeatedly. He is an artist.

The musicians and singers, Dom Coyote, Sandile Gontsana and Gregory Felton, are also an integral part of this melange of personal narratives that prove our communal humanity.

Their singing and playing is great, percussive, tubular bells, foot-tapping rhythms and beats, but it takes Elvis Presley to send us dancing out of the Purcell Room: ‘when we kiss my heart's on fire… please surrender all your love so warm and tender’. It’s all about love.

Our initial expectations have been subverted, but the image that will stay in my mind’s eye is David Toole, his torso hooked over the feet of a wheelchair, pulling it along like a charioteer or a centaur. Noble, independent, eloquent. 

Reviewer: Vera Liber