monumental (3 stars)

This article is from 2016


credit: Yannick Grandmont

Fierce performances and a wild rock score are the highlights of this dystopian dance piece from Canada's The Holy Body Tattoo

Isolated on individual podiums, a nine-strong army of smart casual urbanites is waking up. Angular flashes whisk up and down a lone, skirted, shirted dancer. The momentum is passed to another and everyday gestures start to creep in: anxious hair smoothing, irritable scratching. To the live roaring soundscape of post-rock group Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the ensemble melts into synchronicity, becoming a kind of city tribe. Snap changes and fist-bearing stances are their drills as they swap in and out of sub-divisions.

Vancouver-based The Holy Body Tattoo's dystopian vision feels like a war within both the social body and the individual one. At times the cast fight, bully and posture; at times they are so frenzied in their own scratching, hair pulling, and leg-rubbing it's as if they want to tear themselves apart and start all over again. In the background, snapshot wisdoms – social strategies and perceptions about the body – by Jenny Holzer appear like billboards showing our lost pedestal-dwellers how to survive.

The cast are tight and at their wildest when in full military fire, using the rhythms of tattoos together with the sprawling, odd shapes of abstract dance to spine-tingling effect. But for all the anguish and poetic insights the piece feels curiously soulless. Though travelling towards a bleak vision of the future, it never quite gives up its slick, sexy, young professional aesthetic, nor does the choreography relieve us from relentless snapping and scratching motifs. This leaves an unsatisfying emotional gap between the harrowing ideas about social disintegration and the actual impressive spectacle and makes monumental feel more of a cerebral experience than the visceral one a piece about body, soul and human connection could be.

Edinburgh Playhouse, until 9 Aug, 8pm, £10–£32.


  • 3 stars

monumental has been hailed as a landmark in contemporary dance, bringing together two of Canada’s most uncompromising performing arts groups – The Holy Body Tattoo and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Legendary Montreal art-rock collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor inspire awe and devotion among their fans with their…