Aggressively sexual, full-frontally experimental and self-consciously provocative, Vincent Dance Theatre’s Motherland dirtied the stage at the Southbank Centre last Thursday as part of the WOW (Women of the World) Festival 2014. Utterly mad, sometimes poignant and beautiful, and often uncomfortable, Motherland celebrates women in a peculiar and incredibly thought-provoking way.

Motherland © Vincent Dance Theatre
Motherland
© Vincent Dance Theatre

A lone woman (Aurora Lubos), high-heeled and short-skirted, walks across a bare stage, wine bottle in-hand. She unscrews the lid while looking challengingly out at the audience. The automatic response is to assume she will take a swig and slump against the wall, drunkenly pathetic. Instead, she splashes a glop of the thick, dark red liquid against the previously perfect white wall, lifts her skirt, turns and leans against the wall, placing her legs either side of the red ooze dripping down the wall. She stares blankly forward, as if this (her period, her audience) is nothing unusual nor worthy of note. This first, challenging moment sets the bar for an experimental thought-provoking piece of dance theatre, which inverts assumptions, disputes norms, and tackles a whole host of themes surrounding gender, sexuality, parenthood, being single, growing up and getting old - particularly revolving around women. Everything in Motherland seems deliberately challenging, to the point it is almost stubbornly confrontational.

Blood punctuates Motherland. The ooze of blood down the wall is a recurring motif or a timeline, suggesting women might measure out their lives in monthly bleeds. One particularly gritty solo was danced – and I use the term loosely – by Andrea Catania, after splashing blood on the top of her inner thighs and laying motionless for several minutes, splayed out in full view. During her slow crawl across the stage, with her tangled arms and legs equally desperate in their stretching reach for her target (a chalkboard bearing the word MOTHER), the care she took in protecting her pelvis was agonising to watch; she seemed so fragile. Yet Lubos’s reverse birth, in which Janusz Orlik covers her in blood and gradually stuffs her dress to bursting point, which was followed by several rounds of cheesy grins and bowing from Lubos and Orlik to the sound of canned laughter, was completely distancing. In Motherland, Vincent deals with various gritty, usually untouched subject matters in quite a literal way: fake blood mingles with sweat and soil which is dumped unceremoniously on stage, so all the performers are covered in it by the end. Yet the real, dirty subjects are handled with a distanced clinicalness that prevents the reality and dirtiness coming through – leaving me with a sense of the lack of raw emotion in much of the piece.

A large portion of Motherland is served up in silence: a blank atmosphere to go with the blank stage, upon which the performers may play as they please. But this silence is both challenging and confrontational; solos are devoid of meaning and characters seem pared down in the echoing silence, fueling a profound sense of unease amongst the audience. Live music, written and played by the performers, is a welcome and often poetic relief when it kicks in, transforming the harsh atmosphere completely. One solo, danced by Greig Cooke several times throughout the piece, takes on an extreme fragility when performed to music, rebranding this aggressively arrogant man as a sensitive character who is overwhelmingly lonely and unstable. Vincent illustrates how powerful live performance can be – and how easily affected an audience – with the simplest of devices.

It’s not all challenge and fragility: there are humorous moments too. Orlik cross-dresses and sings Rihanna and Beyonce songs as he struts, twerks and slut-drops, much to the audience’s amusement. However, while there was a lot of laughter around me throughout, I didn’t feel particularly tickled by much of Motherland. The peculiar musical interludes – most of which involve playful use of electrical feedback, creative use of voice and semi-nudity – are outstandingly memorable but hard to assimilate with any sense of the piece as a whole.

Motherland © Vincent Dance Theatre
Motherland
© Vincent Dance Theatre

Vincent creates challenging, uncompromising live performance pieces, designed to “move people and make them think” – but the nature of her audience implies she is preaching to the converted. It’s an in-your-face production, and may leave you thinking about it for days afterward, but I can’t help wondering whether it was weird merely for the sake of being weird? Motherland is self-conscious but, besides yelling loud-and-clear, “the rules of theatre are there to be broken”, it didn’t seem to be making a particular point. I left feeling overwhelmed and bombarded, but with no sense of what Motherland wanted from me as an audience member.

Motherland is a unique, compelling production that, although not entirely clear in it's intentions, got my brain whirring and left me with some powerful, raw imagery.

***11