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Karlos Chinaski

“A healthy release of sexual energy”

2 October 2018 | Emily May

We checked out Impermanence Dance Theatre’s “SEXBOX”, an exploration of the sexual research of psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich, before it tours to venues in Bournemouth and Bath.

You are welcomed to the show by the iconic phrase. “Wilkommen Meine Damen und Herren,” chalk-faced drag queen Frau Welt bellows in a caricatured German accent, exciting all Weimar-o-philes (including this critic) who now think they’ve got a night of allusions to one of the most infamously decadent periods of history in store. But after the Deutsch diva has delivered the backstory of psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich and his research into how the release of sexual energy could be humanity’s salvation, gone are the audience’s hopes of the piece being located in a specific time period, as they are then plunged head first into a cast of blank-faced dancers in tight lycra cat suits performing odd gestures and technical movements reminiscent of piece by avant-garde American choreographer Merce Cunningham. 

Image Credit: Aaron Davies 

Blending timelines or influences is an admirable, innovative way to create a dance production (Impermanence apparently took inspiration from Hollywood glamour films, 1960s art house animations, Iggy Pop and romantic poems during their creation process), and moments such as the performers lip-syncing to romantic scenes from Hollywood films, such as the renowned ending of Now, Voyager, are unexpected and add humour to the piece. However, SEXBOX’s incongruous movement language is confusing and results in a disjointed choreographic phrases, as performers writhe around, rotating their pelvises imbued with sexual energy, only to suddenly start executing controlled, technical movements such as stag leaps, which seem more suited to an abstract work by Cunningham, rather than a show exploring the innate power of human sexuality.

Image Credit: Aaron Davies 
 
This being said, there are some moments of choreographic interest, namely a duet that seems to chart the progress of sexual encounter between two male dancers. They roll on the floor, their limbs intertwined. One dancer pretends to do coke off their partner’s leg. The other thrusts orgasmically on top of him in interspersed bursts perfectly in time with musical accents. And then it gets violent, as they fling each other around and down on to the floor. Strobe lights surrounding the in-the-round stage flicker uncontrollably creating a palpable atmosphere, but, admittedly, are quite distracting for the audience and cause them to miss out on much of the movement. Another interesting (though fleeting) moment is when the majority of the cast group together in an orgy-like bundle that is arguably more engaging than the solo it is providing a background to. It would have been interesting to see how this idea could have been developed to explore the group’s collective sexual energy.

Image Credit: Aaron Davies 
 
The sound score for SEXBOX was inspired by the work of German electronic music Ursula Bogner, who herself was fascinated by Reich’s ideas. Its pulsating beats are interspersed with pieces of informative text about Reich’s research, which would create a helpful dramaturgical arc to the piece, except it is quite difficult to hear the finer details of the text due to questionable quality and the electronic score continuing to beat on, which is a shame, as if you research the psychiatrist’s work after the show, you will realise that it is indeed fascinating. The big question is though, what are Impermanence hoping to achieve with this production? Are they merely trying to be informative, and educate the audience about a lesser known figure in the history of psycho-analysis? Are they celebrating his work? It’s slightly unclear, and it would have been preferable if there was a more apparent reason for their onstage sexual exploits, and if there was more of a connection drawn between Reich’s research and its relevance to contemporary society.
 
SEXBOX is touring the UK, and will be performed at Pavilion Dance South West, Bournemouth (3 October) and Bath Spa University Theatre (10 October). 
 
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