BDSM and dance share a lot. Both work with the body but demand an engaged mind; both seek, keep and transcend limits. Both, to outsiders, are charged with an alarming (perhaps incomprehensible) intensity. Both can be a lot of fun. In The Dan Daw Show, it is more than fun: it is joy.
Choreographer and performer Dan Daw takes every aspect one step further. As a disabled performer who self-describes as Crip, he reimagines the spectator/performer relationship by setting up the show as carefully as a kink scene. Before he begins, he offers us trigger warnings, safe words, hard limits, and the opportunity to leave, with no judgement.
The performance alternates between scripted acts of negotiation and after-care (all subtitled) between Daw and Christopher Owen, and raw, danger-seamed duets which evoke the energy of kink without feeling explicit or sordid. Owen handles Daw with tough, tender control; he hurls Daw’s body against his own, rolls with him leg-over-leg across the stage, feverishly thrashes Daw’s arm, or whirls him around like a pebble in a slingshot.
Most vivid and powerful are scenes which seamlessly bleed considerations of disability, voyeurism and kink. In one, Owen instructs Daw to get on his hands and knees on a padded table, then films his face, body and the inside of his mouth with a smartphone. In another, Daw crawls into a man-sized ‘vac cube’ with latex walls, from which the air can be suctioned and the body encased and displayed. ‘It feels like a lovely, expensive, taxpayer-funded hug,’ says Daw.
That’s the other important thing. Daw is funny, and every scene of blistering emotional force is followed up by an often very humorous conversation – after-care for a nervous audience. We are in silent thrall to these visceral scenes, hearts hammering; we sit stunned and moved afterwards, and are tenderly soothed in each conversational interlude. Daw joyfully demonstrates that his body is beloved, audacious, sexual and disabled – not but, but and.