The Very Last Northern White Rhino
The theatre is dark, the floor black, gridded with white, prison-like bars. A dark-skinned, black-clad man is kneeling in one corner, huge hands joined in prayer. They move to hide his face: a position of terror or submission? But when he unfolds himself to stand erect the mood shifts in an instant. He is gliding at speed across the floor. A sophisticated interweaving of street dance moves makes him articulate, elegant and powerful. The soundtrack, hinting at urban bustle, is overlaid with Bach’s soothing piano. Contradicting emotions is what this piece conjures from the start.
Inspired by the death of the last male white rhinoceros and the remaining females’ obliviousness to their species’ impending extinction, at the end, the dancer, Oulouy, flies off the stage; we think it’s all over, that he’s escaped. But he returns for a last burst of jubilant dance. The optimistic coda feels sadly, deliberately, artificial and forced. The work is a switchback ride: a ghost train to our future.
Cars. Kids. Birds. Words. The soundtrack occupies the space before Gaston Core’s cinematic choreography does. A man on his knees with praying hands which mutate into sign language, masks and even tentacles. Later, his hands become two butterflies flying over the stage. Shoulders join the movement and then the rest of the body. Silence. Black out (except the ceiling).
The ‘film’ continues with a spotlight that casts Oulouy inside his daydreaming world. When back to reality, he loses his confidence, running anxiously as if in a cage: is that just him, or could it be any one of us, stuck as if in a box-like city? Unsettling steps fill the empty stage, making us question about the meaning of living. And, are we happy? In the moment of self-reconciliation, music tunes up. Freedom emerges inside out and Oulouy spreads out joy in his urban dance movement, from tip to toe.
The End. The Very Last Northern White Rhino is based on the true story of the last two survivors of the species.
Sounds of a rainforest play in the background as the audience comes in. Hubbub voices start to fade as soon as a dancer strolls into the stage and frames a kneeling prayer. Trying to look closer seems like a frustrating task: the dancer hides his face behind meticulously tangled fingers. Far away from this puzzling scene, sounds of nature are interrupted by human laughs and chats,
This solo transforms into something new as he unwraps his hands. The arms lead the path towards an inner flux that externally materialises into spirals across the space, creating a stroll of contemplation – interrupted only by restless twitches. Still, he finds a way to recompose, to restart. He walks to the front of the stage and runs into the audience space. He’s now the observer, staring at the audience. He grins at the playfulness of vibrant leaps, spins and krumping steps. There is a reason to smile after all.
Urban dancer Oulouy, in black with white socks, is on his knees praying. By opening his hands like a book, his face gets covered during a micro-choreography that keeps it concealed for some time. The organic evolution of movement turns into a sequential wavy dance of his arms that gradually reveals his face. Quick crossings of legs, body shapes that freeze into recognisable poses and sequential movements alternate with moments of assimilation of the dancer’s dark skin into the darkness, leaving the stage empty or his body obscure; all are essential elements of the narrative of escaping the very act of death and celebrating life before its end.
In The Very Last Northern White Rhino, Gaston Core borrows movement material from the rich culture of urban dance and uses the minimal means of theatrical apparatus to tell the story about the extinction of one animal that could be the story of any living species which comes across the danger of death in an attempt to avoid it. It is an almost spiritual story-telling dance piece that attempts to break the fourth wall and integrate light and movement into an interplay with disappearance and invisiblity.
Hands; this piece begins with exploration of their nuanced possibility, to create and punctuate, to harm, heal and hold. The soloist prays, bowed behind his hands as they converse. The sliding of palms over fist evokes swift folds of origami. Eventually they swim away; flitting, antagonising fish. This liquid energy dribbles into shoulders and knees, he chooses a body part and rides on its potential as if there is nothing else left to move.
Dressed in black he inches between shadows like a shape-shifting Peter Pan. His bodily states sing lullabies of mysterious meaning. Isolations blur into convulsions at a stimulus we can merely imagine, but as his face breaks into manic smiles we sense a fight surrendered, and even a game initiated. Like a child with a kite, he quicksteps and skips through the urban vocabulary. He flies, and we are welcomed to rejoice in it. You cannot avoid his infection of the feeling that liberation in movement, even in excess, can never be worn thin.
What was he praying for? Perhaps one answer can be read on our faces. Freedom.