Choreographer Jean Abreu brings Inside show to Edinburgh Fringe

This article is from 2010


Abreu uses dance to look at prison life

The prisons of our minds and the physicality of jails have been concerning Jean Abreu lately. He tells Kelly Apter how he created a dance piece about forced isolation

Picture spending day after endless day trapped behind a locked door, for which someone else has the key. That’s where Jean Abreu’s imagination has been residing for the best part of two years, during the creation of his new work, Inside. The award-winning choreographer has turned his long-held interest in prison life into a powerful piece of contemporary dance which premieres at this year’s Fringe.

‘Prison has always been a fascinating subject for me because it’s a microcosm of society,’ says Abreu. ‘People are so contained within a space that everything – their vulnerabilities, their worst parts – become exaggerated. Making the piece has been such a social science adventure.’ Born in Brazil, but based in London for the past 14 years, Abreu is best known for co-founding Protein Dance (Publife, The Banquet) but has since branched out on his own. Inside will be the debut offering from the newly-formed Jean Abreu Dance, inspired by a number of what he calls ‘trigger points’.

‘It started with my ongoing interest in the human condition,’ he explains. ‘Then I discovered lots of films about life in prison and became interested in how the body deals with sensorial isolation, both physically and psychologically.‘ As well as developing a movement vocabulary that could adequately portray life in a confined space, Abreu underwent an intensive period of research; although not in the way you might expect.

‘My research has been very intellectual in a sense,’ he says. ‘I didn’t do what a lot of people thought I would do, which is go into prisons. Instead I spent about a year watching films, reading work by writers who had been in prison, like Jean Genet and Oscar Wilde, and talking to social scientists in Brazil. The work ended up being an amalgamation of all those different influences.’

To realise his vision, Abreu has gathered together a talented team of performers and designers and, for the first time ever, he won’t be dancing in his own work. According to Abreu, being able to stand back and observe his choreography during the creative process ‘has been so long awaited’. He is also more than a little excited about Inside’s musical accompaniment, provided by guitar instrumentalists 65daysofstatic, who will be performing live at every show during the Fringe.

‘65daysofstatic have been amazing,’ says Abreu. ‘They’ve created a whole piece specially for this work, it’s an exclusive number. People say to me “how did you manage to get them?” They were simply interested in my idea.’ Another feather in Abreu’s cap is Alan Macdonald, production designer for Inside. Over the past decade, Macdonald has designed and co-directed three major world tours for Kylie Minogue, so knows a thing or two about creating atmosphere.

With such a weighty subject matter, Abreu is aware that he can’t bombard his audience with unrelenting misery. ‘I didn’t want to make a piece that people watching it would think “oh this is so hard, so depressive”,’ he says. ‘I just want the audience to question what we do with those people in our society that are seen as being not good. And how our decisions, choices and laws dictate the way people end up.’

Those laws, of course, can vary drastically from country to country, something Abreu has taken into consideration; not least because the ‘prison’ depicted in Inside isn’t just one made of bricks and mortar. ‘My prison is in many different places, and it’s the physical as well as the metaphorical. It’s our internal prison, which is about our own limitations, a prison of consciousness. But the piece also looks at breaking free and of seeing prison as a barrier which provokes an individual to want something better.’

Inevitably, audiences will enter the theatre with their own images and thoughts about imprisonment, which is fine by Abreu. ‘Many people have said it made them think of iconic things from recent times, such as Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib,’ he says. ‘And they were probably in my subconscious somewhere, although I didn’t set out to comment on anywhere in particular. But I think the piece will take people there; because it’s in their heads, all those things will come out.’

Inside, Zoo Roxy, Roxburgh Place, 0131 662 6892, 6–14 Aug, 6.25pm, £12.


Fiercely evocative, highly-charged physical dance-theatre featuring five outstanding male dancers and choreography by Jerwood Award-winner Jean Abreu. 'One of the UK’s most closely watched talents' (Guardian). Abreu explores violence, incarceration, solitude and hope within the prison walls revealing the thoughts and…

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