The Shadow

Anthony Missen and Kevin Edward Turner
Company Chameleon
HOME, Manchester
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Company Chameleon has a reputation for creating socially relevant dance theatre, and, at HOME, their current production concentrates on raising awareness of mental health issues.

Avoidance, the curtain-raiser by Chameleon Youth Seniors, explores social anxiety. The fifteen members of the resident youth dance company are dressed unflatteringly in hospital-style smocks buttoned up unevenly. Kevin Edward Turner’s choreography emphasises the awkwardness of the troupe in social situations. Alone, the dancers are capable of graceful solo movements but in a group, they seem clumsy, bumping into each other or tripping over their own feet.

Anthony Missen’s choreography for The Shadow ambitiously examines Carl Jung’s concept that the shadow represents the unconscious, dark side of our personality and our inability to acknowledge this part of ourselves can cause neuroses. On stage, six alumni from Edge Hill University, wearing dark overalls and opaque face masks, follow members of the troupe, dressed in everyday clothing. Like silent ninjas, the Shadows wordlessly interfere with the lives of the dancers and push them towards unhealthy actions.

Missen tells the stories of people who are affected by mental health problems and so takes a literal approach to the subject matter with the effects of repressing the darker side of personality reflected in a series of dances. The Shadows are ever-present, representing the cyclical nature of mental health problems. In the opening number, a dancer pulls free of a Shadow only to stumble over more of them lying inert on the stage. The Shadows physically restrain the dancers, blocking movements or preventing them making contact with each other.

One of the dancers is neutral—an observer who remains outside the action. As we have seen him shake off the Shadows, and, as he is more mature than the other dancers, it is possible he is looking back on his earlier struggles with mental health from a position of recovery. On the other hand, as he offers counsel to a dancer and even confronts a Shadow direct, he may be a therapist; possibly even Jung himself.

The choreography is initially innocent—the dancers like children at play. Gradually, however, the mood darkens as the dancing becomes more competitive and even violent. Rather than dancing together, the dancers become confrontational; instead of supporting each other, they grab and push. A disco that ends up as a party where the Shadows refuse to let anyone leave and the dancing moves towards frantic represents the difficulties of coping with deteriorating mental health.

The Shadow is discomforting for the right reasons as a variety of neuroses are depicted .One dancer is unable to forget the shame of being the object of derision as a child and remains sensitive to mockery as an adult. Another indulges in self-harm, slapping herself and pulling hair. In the strongest sequence, a dancer surrenders to his phobias and becomes sexually submissive—emerging naked except for briefs and a bondage collar before seeking refuge in a cage with the Shadows.

The Shadow does not minimise the difficulties facing people who struggle with their mental health and, although it ends on a positive note, remains a powerful and disturbing dance.

Reviewer: David Cunningham