The Tramway Studio 4 is not so much in the round as in the rectangle. The ceilings are high and the stage is bare. Four dancers face the wall. There’s no music for nearly the entire first half, just the thud of the dancer’s feet. I say thud because the dancers are jumping, quite high, from foot to foot for the best part of an hour. It’s like a really intense warm up for Irish dancing that never gets as far as the fancy footwork. They do this on the spot, then they do it back and forth across the stage. Sometimes one of them takes a break, then they carry on. There are slight and increasing variations in movement. We get a kind of limping hop, an off-beat jump, a yoga pose, and gradually the rest of the dancers’ bodies and arms get involved in simple gestures and poses.
I want to do justice to the minimalist experimentalism of this piece. But although it is certainly avant-garde it is also quite tedious. The skill and stamina of these dancers is undeniable. I feel incredibly unfit just watching them. The concept of the piece does not, however, come across effectively. I read beforehand that the choreography explores each performer’s different dance background and personalised response to the music. I would have loved to get a feel of these different backgrounds, of each dancer’s personality, but all we see is a group of women doing much the same thing for an hour.
Occasionally one of them plays a few eerie chords on the violin, then one of the dancers starts singing into that machine ubiquitous to hipster performances. I think it’s called an audio looper. Basically, you sing into it (or, more often than not, make a noise), then it plays back that sound on repeat and you add sonic layers. I have nothing against hipsters, and have been known to have a blunt fringe, rolled up trousers and wear brogues. I’ve just never seen such a hipster dance performance before. There are quirky haircuts galore, high-waisted trousers that are too short, and faded, pulled up socks. Would I view tonight differently if they were in leotards? Would I still feel that the show tries too hard? I don’t know. I do know that I find Brocade both mesmerising and dull. But perhaps that’s the point, testing the focus and endurance of audience and dancer alike.