The Sun Shining On Her Hands

Cassiah Joski-Jethi
Trip the Light Theatre
The Bread and Roses Theatre

Ash Goosey and Anna Rachael McBride Credit: Cassiah Joski-Jethi
Sara Page and Anna Rachael McBride Credit: Cassiah Joski-Jethi
Trip the Light Theatre Credit: Cassiah Joski-Jethi

The dance performance of The sun shining on her hands takes as its subject the character of Marie from Georg Büchner’s play Woyzeck. She is a woman oppressed by her society, brutally treated and finally murdered.

Trip the Light Theatre imagines the story from the point of view of Marie, adding something of what might have been her earlier history and real accounts from anonymous sources of more recent gender discrimination.

Two females and one male dancer play the part of Marie at different points in her life, these points being played at the same time rather than as a chronological story. In this way the older Marie weighed down by concerns over a baby, debates with younger more joyful Marie’s. Their movements can be fluid and freer in contrast to the more stilted and broken gestures of the older woman.

The musical accompaniment by Sarah Jasmin Page is simple and uncluttered. There is a haunting but uplifting quality to the single piano piece "Rockabye" that opens the show and repeats itself towards the end. The repetitive movement of dancers is underscored by the mechanical sounds of "Candelmas Day" co written with Dave Shannon.

The director-choreographer Cassiah Joski-Jethi explains that the performance is about gender and identity, the title referring to "a line in Woyzeck (that I take as a) metaphor for women having the power for freedom in their own hands".

In conversation, she drew my attention to the ways that the lives of women can be hedged in by society, and how she reflects this in the dance.

"Just walking home you can get comments from men so that you try to pull your skirt further down and you walk with a constant paranoia. I try to show this in the dancer’s movements."

However there are aspects of this show which make it difficult to see any story, character development or clear message about gender.

Although it is possible to work out that all the performers are Marie from different points in time, it is not easy to see any character development other than the broad strokes contrast of a younger Marie being joyful and an older Marie being obsessed with a child. Moreover the persistent quoted lines of torment from Büchner’s Woyzeck only tell us she is tormented, not why this is the case.

Cassiah makes another decision which poses difficulties. The gender-blind casting of roles can send out confusing messages. When Marie is probably raped by the drum major played by a woman, there didn’t appear to be any signals indicating we should see the role as male. Surely we can’t have been intended to see the woman as the abuser?

There will be a few who are excited by the ideas in this show. Many will just enjoy the beauty of the music and the power of the dancing. But unfortunately I think most people will regard this dance as a technical exercise in movement rather than a language that is saying anything about the world.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna