Covid has pushed dance increasingly into the digital realm, but also into the implacably analogue: outdoors. Can a soggy British summer play host to a truly satisfying theatrical experience?
Certainly, there’s a rich cultural history underpinning Protein’s latest work. Artistic director Luca Silvestrini’s choreographed journey through Woolwich extends across this largely ungentrified corner of South East London, taking in the vast expanse of the grassy Common to the hustle of General Gordon Square, guiding audiences through time and space.
To begin, the performers invite us in with verbal and physical cues like trails of breadcrumbs, and it’s pure whimsy to follow their lead through the Common’s dappled dells, where memories are drawn by bodies and voices, music drifting across the grass. Under a canopy of trees, we encounter the musicians who accompany our onward journey. A playful romp across the imposing grandeur of the Royal Artillery Barracks leads to the beautiful, war-ravaged Garrison Church where a eulogy to lost lives sees broken-looking bodies carried across stony paths to the earnest military strains of brass and drums.
Approaching General Gordon Square, energy ramps up to a carnival high with whoops and cheers, leaps and lunges. We reach the heart of Woolwich as an angry protest with megaphones and rousing clarion calls. Then the show softens and cracks open, sweeping across the square, inviting in a wider audience with bird calls and soft song. It’s artfully managed by the performers, even if there’s not quite enough thrust to draw the diverse onlookers through the gates of the rather exclusive Royal Arsenal.
The company rolls river-ward regardless, voices and bodies providing a swell of miraculous momentum in the third hour. As we arrive among the solemn circle of standing figures by sculptor Peter Burke that herald our journey’s end, there’s a moment of pure theatrical magic as the heavens open and everyone is soaked to the skin, faces skyward, dancing our hearts out to a celebratory declaration: ‘WE’RE HERE!’