‘I’m blind, living in the dark. Darkness is my education’ – so Juilliard-trained dancer and choreographer Vendetta Mathea opens Homme | Animal. She utters these words with her eyes closed, and proceeds to execute a mesmerising solo before leaving the stage to the three-dancer ensemble that takes the stage for the following hour.
The animal noises made both offstage by Mathea and on stage by the company are superfluous and undermine the rest of the show.
Evocatively lit and accompanied by a powerful original soundtrack, the show sees its dancers smoothly weave their way through solos, duets and trios that span a range of styles, from Cunningham- and Graham-influenced contemporary dance to ballet and breakdance. Although Mathea’s opening lines create expectations of some sort of narrative, it soon becomes apparent that no such thing is to be found. But it does not matter – this piece truly highlights humans’ primeval nature, and the audience is transfixed by the combination of the music and the beautiful mechanics of the dancers’ bodies.
With the exception of Mathea, who is only briefly on stage at the beginning and at the end of the piece, the other dancers have plenty of scope to show their talent, dancing in response to each other and on their own, their movements so well calibrated and executed that the audience cannot take their eyes off them. Occasionally they truly resemble animals, jerking their arms and heads like exotic birds or prowling like wolves, dancing in shifting alliances like members of a pack, threatening one moment, at rest the next.
The choreography is so effectively devised and executed that the animal noises made both offstage by Mathea and on stage by the company are superfluous and undermine the rest of the show. They are distracting at best and transform the show into an elevated version of The Lion King at worst, and it would be interesting to see the show without them. Likewise, Mathea’s opening and closing lines take the whole piece in a slightly different direction. On the one hand, they are slightly jarring and obscure, hinting at issues of one’s quest for one’s identity; on the other, they layer Homme | Animal with extra meaning that the audience is left to ponder about after the lights go down. One can tell that much of Mathea’s long career as a dancer and experience as a human-rights fighter has poured into this piece of work, which sometimes is almost oversaturated with content.
This might not be a show for those of us with an aversion to contemporary dance or slightly unintelligible performances, but its beautiful choreography and skilful dancers deserve being seen.