The Watching and The Watched: Casting Traces at Guildhall, Winchester. Reviewed by Rebecca JS Nice on 23rd October 2014
Inspired by Paul Auster’s series of post-modern detective novels The New York Trilogy, Casting Traces invites viewers to share the space of six dancers and a violinist and travel constantly from beginning to end. Refreshingly exciting and unsettling, New Movement Collective’s promenade production turns heads every which way by breaking down the fourth wall entirely and blurring the boundaries between public and performer, the watching and the watched.
Audience members, instructed to hang our jackets up and replace them with white coats, are left in a narrow space before three archways filled with large sheets of paper. The show itself is slow to start, beginning with a silhouetted scene with dancers lit from behind and their shadows darting across the paper surfaces. The piece becomes more interesting as they pour a strange clear liquid from a test tube around their shadow, and then pull the paper away in the shape of a figure to reveal their real selves and a new area behind them. The space is now larger but divided into planes and sections by paper walls at various heights. Views are blocked and opened, compositions cropped and ever-changing.
Much of Casting Traces is busy and disorienting due to the shifting use of space, projected images, moving musicians and people everywhere. It’s hard to decide where to look and how to navigate. The wandering white coat brigade explores the performance environment, peering and searching, ducking out of dancers’ paths, crouching below or tiptoeing above the paper. Our white jackets make us anonymous and, at the same time, turn us into an extension of the paper walls as the projections hit our bodies. The jackets heighten the sense of voyeurism, but they also continually alter our roles between that of silent interrogator and observant performer; as spectators we’re somehow both active and yet inactive. But the complex, often jarring relationships between performer, viewer and space compete with one another. It therefore takes longer than usual to become accustomed to the setting, and take control of how to interact with and view the show.
Having created an exercise in the demarcation, navigation and dislocation of space, NMC can only be critiqued in attempting too much. The relationships between the dancers themselves aren’t always clear; perhaps a simpler theme related to the playing of space would’ve been enough without any additional narrative content. However, when Casting Traces works it really works. I take a step back to the far wall and watch two trios constantly embracing and swapping places in the foreground, staying put as they travel through the paper to the next picture plane. Glimpses of tender facial expressions and gestures are much more poignant when framed between a body and torn paper. As the music becomes more emotive the dancers progress further and further back as the areas they leave are plunged into darkness. Duets and solos, delivered in fits and blasts in pockets and corners of the space, develop into an ensemble energy that builds as tension and dislocation subside.
Casting Traces is a must-see for the risks it takes and the immersive atmosphere it creates. Unusual, beautiful and full of mysteries to investigate, the viewing experience is entirely dependent on the individual and therefore entirely different for everyone willing to become involved.
Casting Traces: The Paper Maze is at Guildhall, Winchester until Saturday October 25. Book tickets here