Anna Holmes and Sam Ford
The Piece Hall Trust, Northern Rascals and Northern Broadsides
The Piece Hall, Halifax
Young people cannot win with the coronavirus crisis. Although least likely to suffer serious illness as a result of infection, their education, livelihoods and mental health have been shattered and they have been vilified as behaving irresponsibility and risking spreading infection.
The Aftermath, a dance theatre piece devised by the young people of Calderdale and choregraphed by Anna Holmes and Sam Ford, gives youngsters the opportunity to express their anxiety, anger and sense of isolation. It was performed and filmed in the open air in the courtyard at The Piece Hall in Halifax with residents watching the show or going shopping clearly visible in the background.
There is a cruel irony about the piece. Although filmed in the open air, it is hard to escape the feeling the dancers are confined. Dance is a communal art form—dependent upon an ensemble working together. Social distancing makes such an approach impossible so, with a brief exception towards the end, the twenty members of the troupe do not touch but operate from a distance. This is dance performed under, but refusing to be limited by, the ‘new normal’ conditions.
Inevitably, therefore, there is an atmosphere of tension with the cast at times standing apart and seeming to regard each other with suspicion. This is not the only unusual feature of the film. Surprisingly, the dancers are filmed in intense close-up. Viewers are denied any sense of release from watching the troupe cut loose and leap around. There are only brief glimpses of the troupe in long shot and we rarely see the full bodies of the dancers, only their limbs. Some minutes pass before it becomes apparent the opening sequence is filmed with the dancers seated, anxiously raising their hands and struggling to expresses their concerns like children in a classroom. The dancers stride in an aggressive manner and the restless camerawork—rushing close to, and around, the cast—adds to the sense of urgency and confusion. Potential violence hangs over the production.
Although Anna Holmes’s blank verse articulates the anger and isolation of the dancers and excerpts from news bulletins play on the soundtrack, there is a strong sense of people struggling to communicate. The cast stutter both verbally and physically; the dancers twitching spasmodically as if shocked or staggering around stunned.
Although resentment is not apparent at any point, The Aftermath reflects the sheer effort involved in trying to be positive during the coronavirus crisis. A joyful game of catch breaks down when a member of the team refuses to play along and selflessly starts to dominate the others.
The Aftermath is a remarkable achievement; a practical demonstration that it is possible for the arts to continue even during lockdown conditions and a powerful statement by a group of people who have been overlooked during the pandemic.
Reviewer: David Cunningham