To Breathe

To Breathe starts with its six performers standing in a circle, staring at the audience, just breathing. Physically, they’re all quite different – five young women of various ethnic backgrounds and physicalities, and the lone muscular maleness provided by Lewis McDonald. It is an appropriately somewhat unnerving beginning for the show that follows, but it also underscores how the simplest of things – a breath – can actually encapsulate a wide range of different emotions, from calm wonder to primal anguish. Yet while each is singular, they also share enough to be a whole.

Fast, powerful and ever-ready to surprise, To Breathe is a show that demands its audience pays attention

That simple realisation, however, doesn’t mean that Theatre Paradok make things easy for their audiences; this is by no means an easy show to discribe, and the introductory blurb found on the website and advertising material is suitably vague – albeit verging on the egregiously pretentious. But that’s often the case when words are employed to describe something as uniquely physical and transient as movement and posture, where narrative is based not so much on events but passions and impressions.

Nominally, the show is a somewhat alchemical exploration of the four elements, the changing seasons of the year, and the emotional growth of us all through our lives – at least, I think that’s what it’s “about”. This is achieved by a progression of set pieces, during which the cast often split into three pairs; while the choreography is often repeated between them, it’s seldom exactly the same, not least because of the unique aspects of the individual performers. Talking of the cast, these six dancers have a grace, physical control and innate trust in each other as performers which holds the attention; and they are working with a choreography that is always confident in its control of where we, as an audience, are looking.

There are certain aspects of repetition, but such are the rhythms of life; humour too, although one duet between McDonald and Tiffany Soirat is a surprisingly lustful example of close-body choreography and the application of body-paint. Later, the stressful rush of modern life, and how it can all too easily lead to some of us being lost underfoot, is effectively realised within the spartan performance space; a stark contrast to Maddie Flint’s almost prehistoric-feeling grasping for fire in the near-darkness.

Anna Elisabeth Tomsen effectively embodies moments of unnerving rapture, as she plucks light from above, while literally standing on the backs of her peers. That said, the choreography is good enough to give everyone in the cast their turn as the centre of attention: Adela Briansó and Erin Whalley are just as dynamic and emotive as the rest of the cast.

Fast, powerful and ever-ready to surprise, To Breathe is a show that demands its audience pays attention; if it has a problem, however, it’s perhaps too abstract on occasions and it’s not impossible for the mind to wander. On the plus side, it’s also a show which doesn’t outstay its welcome, and leaves some truly startling images and sensations to remember it by.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

Multiple Venues

Nests

★★★
Dundee Rep Theatre / Macrobert Arts Centre

The Yellow on the Broom

★★★
Underbelly, Bristo Square

Tom Neenan: It's Always Infinity

★★★★
Assembly George Square Studios

Police Cops in Space

★★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Rik Carranza: Still a Fan

★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Marmite

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Air. Fire. Earth. Water.

Joy. Passion. Fear. Peace.

Spring. Summer. Autumn. Winter.

Four humours, four seasons, four elements. ‘To Breathe’ is a physical exploration of how each body and each life breathes as it moves through cycles of being. With each expansion and contraction of our lungs, and with every beat of our heart, our bodies tell stories of love and hate, desire and fear.

Sanguine. Choleric. Melancholic. Phlegmatic.