To Be Me

To Be Me pairs a recording of Kate Tempest’s poetry and live dance choreographed by Julie Cunningham; it’s a risky undertaking which is both fascinating but, at times, teeters on the edge of not working.

At times Tempest’s voice soars in extraordinary, incantatory evangelical ecstasies with in-the-moment street language

The show takes on the subject of gender fluidity through exploring the myth of Tiresias who was born a man but transformed into a woman. The four dancers (two males and two females), wear variations of red and black close-fitting outfits and two, with shaven heads, have an androgynous quality.

Their movements too are not gender-specific. There are no lifts. In couplings, neither one or other is dominant. Abstract minimalism rules with only the barest of hints at gesture echoing an occasional word in the poetry. The technique of all four dancers is impressive.

Julie Cunningham's training in ballet is evident, yet the emphasis on clarity of line and precision reflects more her experience working for Merce Cunningham (no relation). But whereas Merce liked to concentrate on dance divorced from music, narrative or symbolism, Julie’s choreography closely responds to the rhythm and breath of Kate Tempest’s energy and the beats of her spoken word/hip hop delivery.

At times Tempest’s voice soars in extraordinary, incantatory evangelical ecstasies with in-the-moment street language, such as describing Tiresias as ‘born freak, born weirdo, born blind’ and ‘macho man ate cars for breakfast’ and her questioning of gender sterotypes: ‘The best girls will fuck like a man given half the chance’. And like all evangelicals, Tempest has a message, or several messages, from anti-racism to anti-capitalism: ‘You are more than the last pair of trainers you bought.’ Unfortunately, the cramming in of topics to attack and the bathos of lines like this one means the poetry is uneven but this is a small criticism against its power to sweep you away.

The main problem is that it is difficult for the audience to concentrate on both dance and poetry at the same time. Inevitably you find yourself watching one or listening to the other and in this reviewer’s case, it was the poetry, despite its flaws, that was the more compelling.

Reviews by Stephanie Green

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The Blurb

Julie Cunningham’s mesmerising performances with Merce Cunningham and Michael Clark Company won her a Critics’ Circle Award. In Dance Base’s intimate performance space, she offers the audience a unique combination of precise dance and incendiary spoken word about gender and identity, inspired by the mythical Tiresias, who was transformed by the gods from male to female for seven years. To Be Me features four world-class dancers (including Cunningham herself) using Kate Tempest’s rhythmic, hip-hop influenced reworking of the ancient Greek myth in a visceral and lyrical recording from the poetry collection Hold Your Own.