The title of this innovative dance piece sums up the theme of the performance; the human wish to continue fighting in the face of illness, the simple desire for ‘more’ life. Produced by final year students Simon Jarvis and Zoë Kapsalis, the show is a powerful modern interpretive dance, backed up effectively with gripping video clips and emotive dialogue.
Featuring an all-female cast of 14, the piece is a reaction to the themes tackled in Tony Kushner’s award-winning play ‘Angels in America.’ A ‘gay fantasia,’ which has provided a powerful voice for victims of the AIDS crisis, the play inspired our Leeds students to create this unique interpretation of the destructive effects of disease and death on a wider scale.
With the entire cast dressed in identical costumes and a very minimalistic set, the audience is able to focus on and become fully immersed in the entirely original soundscape of More Life. The piece opens with haunting chimes as the girls sway to and fro as if being pulled by an invisible force, and these calmer sounds are nicely juxtaposed with faster tempos during the more dramatic dance scenes.
“Something which I have found to be particularly fascinating is the fact that death, which is an inevitable aspect of everyone’s life, is a topic that is so rarely spoken about, sometimes even ignored, and the reasons behind this,” Fadia Qaraman, a key cast member of More Life, tells Her Campus. More Life aims to confront this reluctance to discuss death head-on, via several videos, interspersed with the dance, which show the girls talking directly to the camera, sometimes over the top of each other to create a frenzy of dialogue about death. They describe the feelings of panic and loss of control that come with illness, they tell us where they feel safe and who they feel safe with, they allow us as audience members to see what it’s like to be inside the head of someone who is dying. It is hard to look away.
Simone Bass, another member of the dance team, describes the performance as, “a physical exploration of our desire for more life and in turn the tribulations that come with this.” There are many poignant moments in the show in which we see the characters struggling to cope; a girl runs desperately towards a bench, the only piece of set on stage, over and over again but is stopped every time by another dancer; there is an underlying violence to the way in which she is caught and thrown away from her goal. She can never reach what we presume to be her utmost desire, symbolised by the seat. The bench is used repeatedly to enhance the piece; in one scene a dancer sits on it and appears to relax as she tells us how, “I sit here and it holds me” – just for a moment she is released from the constant turmoil of illness.
A powerful point in the piece is when the girls chant in unison lines from the Maya Angelou poem, ‘Still I Rise.’ They chorus: “Did you want to see me broken? Still I’ll rise.” At times individuals take centre stage and vow “never to stop fighting,” despite knowing that, “my head’s not right! I know that!” The distress of death comes across to the audience in painful waves as we watch the girls contort their bodies on the stage with amazing physicality. The pairing sequences work particularly well as we see one girl controlling the other like puppets, metaphorically showing the way in which disease commands the body; one dancer pinches and prods the side of another, demonstrating the numbing effect of a serious illness.
Towards the end of the piece, two girls perform short monologues detailing their own experiences with death; we hear of a grandmother unable to swallow a cup of tea anymore and of a mother stricken with thyroid cancer. These parts of the performance stood out as emotional, raw pieces of theatre which stay with the audience long after the speakers have lapsed into silence.
Medical language is played robotically in the background of one scene; as the girls perform flawless routines, we are told over and over again that “the body will not heal. Why? We don’t know.” We hear the words “inflammation of the limbs,” “chronic fatigue,” “limited defence against infection,” jumbled together in a kaleidoscopic fashion and it almost becomes too much to take. The dancers put their hands over their ears as though to block out the reality of death and one almost wants to do the same, such is the effectiveness of this technique.
Perhaps one criticism of the show would have to be its length; some scenes seem unnecessarily repetitive and thus with editing the piece could have lost maybe fifteen minutes. At times, the performance was more engaging and immersive than at others; however, overall More Life is an evocative, moving piece of work with moments of real brilliance which emphasise the overwhelming frustration of illness and the continual battle to stay alive.
More Life is showing on Stage One at Stage@Leeds from Wednesday 14th to Saturday 17th March 2012. Doors open at 7.15pm and tickets can be purchased for £8.50 (£6.50) at http://www.leedstickets.com/eventsearch?q=more+life.