Imagine an open-field rave party: empty beer cans and plastic bags scattered in mud, stomping beats mingling with irregular light strobes. The crowd partying as if this night were their last. The rave is a treasure trove of uncanny dance sequences and anarchic power, which contemporary dance has too long left unexplored. But instead of celebrating the unifying spirit of rave, in Crowd, Gisèle Vienne explores the hallucinatory violence underlying the throbbing communion.
Fifteen sporty dancers clad in colourful bomber jackets and t-shirts haltingly progress onto the stage, defying the hasty beats of the deep techno tracks. The ritual begins straight away with cautious sidekicks, GIF-stuttering repetitive holds and brutal twirls, all inspired by the rich vocabulary of club dance. But there is a darkness to this feast, as if this is the last party before a post-apocalyptic hangover.
The dancers each have a character and a personality, but they all fuse in a long common pulsating revelation: sacrifices, hook-ups, farewells. Stories vibrate and bodies shiver, but none of it brings affection: kisses are refused, caresses seem unclaimed, kicks are deliberate, beer bursts into the mud that carpets the stage. Just as in Vienne’s previous works which explore rape, scathing cruelty and child abuse, the implicit violence surfaces. Vienne is a master of Hollywood-scale theatricality (a foggy forest in This Is How You Will Disappear, a huge spaceship lighting tube in The Pyre, or a snowstormed rock gig in Kindertotenlieder), but here she excels at hypnotising the audience with as little as a blurred rhythmic deviation: Peter Rehberg’s careful selection of speedy 90s techno anthems, spanning from Underground Resistance to Jeff Mills, is set against slow undulations, frozen tableaus and liquid duos. The roaring rhythm is set aside, and relationships are obliquely suggested. Dancers quell their agencies, only to explode into frenetic solos and languid duos. Despite the superfluous darkish glitter reminiscent of her earlier works, and tongue-in-cheek spiritual allusions, with Crowd Vienne offers a sparkling show full of gloomy frenzy and candour. Her masterful consecration of revelry and splendour is a fierce rollercoaster – you’d better fasten your seatbelts.