Dance To The Bone tells Joannes’ story through a captivating mix of innovative writing, live rock music and contemporary dance, making for a transcendental night at the theatre. Neon Candle, Ceriann Williams and Sherman Theatre created a play that both modernises and relays the phenomenon of the St Vitus’ Dance which in 1518 struck the city of Strasbourg. 500 years later a Welsh millennial faces what some may call a ‘quarter life crisis’, and finds herself struck by the same strange affliction of incessant, uncontrollable and all consuming dancing. Right next door to the theatre is the Cardiff Students Union, whereby I have subjected myself to peculiar dances many a time.
Set accordingly in South Wales, Joanne is a discontent call centre worker, she feels a great disconnect not only with those of whom surround her, but from herself. At this moment of desperation, she receives a visit from the Patron Saint of Dancing, who curses her with an infectious dance of which she cannot cease. Other members of the community then join her in this trance like jig; it spreads like a rhythmic wildfire. Whilst the storyline initially seems fantastical, historically it echoes the tale of Frau Troffea, who was said to one day have engaged in an infectious trance like dance, and upon stepping into the streets of the city, she infected the people of Strasbourg with this malignant fever too. The more people that started engaging in the dance, the heightened rate of ailments and sometimes death; people danced themselves to sheer physical exhaustion.
There is much speculation regarding the reasoning as to why this event happened. The symptoms of the St Vitus dance were commonly associated with Sydenham Chorea, which was an infectious disease that caused involuntary spasms of the body, emulating that of an all encompassing dance. However, I find this medical reasoning to somewhat take off the mystical edge, so instead let us mark the phenomenon as occurring for ‘reasons unknown’.
Back to the play! As we entered the theatre and took our seats, we were immediately greeted by a dimly lit stage, and six gifted musicians were dotted along the circumference. With little to no introduction, the catchy and immersive song, ‘I wanna take you dancing’ kicked off the play. It was apparent that not only were we going to have the pleasure of a theatre performance, but a live concert too. Immediately the crowd were impressed; I knew I was in for a great evening. After the initial song, which achieved a warm applause, the narrator provided a little backstory to the plot. This provided valuable contextual knowledge so as not to be completely and utterly baffled by the series of events which followed.
The play managed to touch on a wild historical phenomenon, whilst addressing themes relevant to modern day life such as familial dynamics, and in doing so covered ideas of love, loss, truth, honesty, grief and guilt. The characterisations were all spot on too. The play consisted of: a relatable discontent protagonistic main character struggling to attain happiness, her seemingly successful brother of whom she works for, who reveals has always felt overlooked and thus gains validation from external factors, her mother – who comes across as hard hearted but is still in the process of healing from generational trauma, and an old school acquaintance turned social media star, who despite attaining thousands of
followers is suffering with immense loneliness.
The commonality between the characters was that they were all embarking on a journey towards self acceptance; gosh there really was something for everyone. Whilst these sound like heavy topics and did evoke sympathetic, and sometimes sorrowful emotions, the themes were approached in a satirical tone, keeping it light and in keeping with modern day humour. I felt the warming underlying message that everyone is going through it and we all ought to be a little more accepting of that fact, a little more compassionate.
I feel compelled to mention the characterisation of Joanne, played by Yasmin Ozdemir. This role was executed wonderfully and encompassed a touching character progression towards true self acceptance, reflected in both her dance style and her singing, which started off staccato and gradually softened. Joanne’s final solo ‘Might want a brand new start but don’t want to fall apart’ was a slow paced piece, sung beautifully with real meaning. The relationship of the mother and daughter really touched my heart, the actors so accurately portrayed the complexity of parent- child relationships. Whilst initially they found themselves at odds with one another, at the end of the play a switch flicks. The mother and daughter, who started off with a plethora of verbal altercations, and interacted solely from a distance, finally came together. With little lyricism, both of the parties engaged in a synchronous and meaningful dance duet.
Under the absurdity of the events which ensued, it seemed to make total sense. I was pretty speechless after the performance, it exceeded all of my expectations. Despite the minimalistic use of staging, with few actors and few props, it was greatly impactful. It took ‘simple but effective’ to a whole new level. There were lots of moral takeaways, one I feel obliged to share with you is that we ought to ‘feel the size of us, the pain and the beauty.’
Reviewed by Inga Marsden