The Times April 2003
In East London something’s
afoot in a disused railway arch near Bethnal Green Tube station. For Dance
Bear Dance, the latest production by the shunt performance collective, the
audience is ushered into the eerie, cavernous space of Arch 12a to become
part of a meeting at a conference table.
Conspiracy is in the air as telephones ring ominously and alarms sound. Power-dressed delegates talk in fractured sentences of a plot to blow up our train bound “target”. Then we are led into a ‘safe area’, only to find that our conference is being mirrored by another one in the adjoining arch. Who is after who?
After this wonderfully paranoid moment, the production sadly moves away from the conspiracy theme. We’re left with a series of puzzling tableaux – casino gaming tables, a priest handing our German grammar sheets, tangled naked limbs – that may have something to do with changing our identities
( we’re gamblers, worshippers, witnesses at an execution) but which drains away the tension.
Still, the production’s creepier moments could never have been achieved in a normal theatre and the cast of seven delivers even the wackier turns of the piece with total seriousness. If you stop trying to work out how it all connects and treat Dance Bear Dance (don’t even try to figure out the significance of the title) as a mood piece, then there’s plenty to enjoy. For all its often opaque qualities, we need companies like shunt to remind us that, free of the conventional stage, open-air theatre can exploit it outside edge to the full.