- Lucy Ribchester
- 6 August 2019
Montreal-based Cas Public explore disability and sensory perception in this intriguing piece for families
Dance, especially abstract dance, can sometimes seem aggressively disorientating, as if you might have missed something that everyone else has absorbed. But in the case of 9, developed by choreographer Hélène Blackburn and Montreal's Cas Public, being thrown into a world where we feel discombobulated seems to be part of the point.
Blackburn's piece is a response to one of her dancers, Cai Glover, who she found out only after some time was hearing-impaired. Intrigued by the idea that she had interpreted his requests for her to rephrase herself as a slight on her English, Blackburn set her company the remarkable task of exploring the experience of sensory perception through dance – specifically the experience of a hearing-impaired dancer, and in a wider way, the experience of perception in general.
In doing so, she pulls apart Beethoven's 9th Symphony – written after the composer lost his hearing – and more of his music, and channels it through incarnations that are familiar but strange to us, missing beats or raising the pitch of notes.
It's a piece that oscillates between playful and poignant. Children from the audience are brought on stage to remain throughout and sometimes given a sweetly comic direction to follow. But then the dance will segue into frenetic passages of spiky urgent lines, or a dancer will duet blindfolded, flinging herself into ever wilder and more trusting turns.
Then a video clip of a child with a ballet shoe strapped to her head will break the ice, the dancers will all bark like dogs, and then will emerge a searing passage of spotlit ensemble ballet.
Glover – who takes out his hearing aid at the start, meaning he dances deaf throughout – is at the piece's core, and he is a powerhouse of a dancer, a huge presence and a technical master.
The ideas don't always connect but it is an extremely thought-provoking piece. As the voiceover says at one point, 'It is impossible to recreate the experience of being deaf.' But challenging our perception helps us try to empathise.
Church Hill Theatre, until 6 Aug, 6pm, £25 (£12.50).