I Am…: Almost There

I Am... performed by KMAD, directed by Kelsey Middleton.

I Am… performed by KMAD, directed by Kelsey Middleton.

KMAD Dance Company presents ‘I Am…’ a work inspired by a photographic series by 21-year-old Christian Sampson (see it here), which captures “mental disorders” and ‘I Am…’ “gives these illnesses physical form” (according to the programme note).

The work is structured simplistically and directly. After an intro scene, each disorder is introduced with Sampson’s corresponding photograph including a superimposed ‘title’ of explanation, and a voiceover of someone explaining the disorder or their experience of the following:
Panic Attack,
Eating Disorder (just one?),

As KMAD’s ‘I Am…’ lines it up so linearly for us, I’ll try not repeat that dull structure here.

Each of the above listed disorders is so incredibly complex, an hour long work could be (has elsewhere been) dedicated to only one, and they’d still only scratch the surface. It is undeniably ambitious to try and cover ten in one hour, giving each 3-4 minute slots. All that does is trivialise these disorders in the most superficial way.

Many of the dance ‘depictions’ could be interchanged for another of the headings. Looking pained and agonised whilst clutching hair or blocking ears, breathing heavily and engendering angst, could be OCD or Schizophrenia or Depression, according to ‘I Am…’. It’s all a bit obvious and trite. All right, this doesn’t happen 100% of the time, but enough to render most scenes one-dimensional.

There is a seemingly shallow understanding of mental disorders in ‘I Am…’ and unfortunately, overall, a thin evocation of what happens below and beyond the surface behaviours when one lives with any of these disorders. Without analysing the individual scenes, there is the superficiality in the frenzied music and wild kicking in “Schizophrenia”, the shirts painted with Alcohol, Drugs, Porn etc., in “Addiction” (never mind the image of the figures in white ‘swallowing’ the addict), the wall of imposing people that leave the woman tight-fisted and hair-tearing in “Anxiety”.

ALSO. In dance, we’ve got to move beyond men lifting women up and flinging them about, especially when the men get to be shirtless and the women not, for no other apparent reason than the women are breasted and the men muscly-chested. Gender and sex binaries are a no-no! Dance is the medium in which to challenge stereotypes and gender conditioning, because dance works primarily with the body. In two scenes, “Autism” and “Bipolar”, the company’s males were brought on stage (seemingly) just to lift and toss about the female ‘protagonist’… I feel like a broken record on this matter when reflecting on a dance work. But, really people? Art is meant to challenge the norm, in form and content, not perpetuate it.

BUT. There are good moments in almost all of the scenes that speak to choreographic chance-taking. In “Bipolar”, Khaya Ndlovu comes closest to understanding and presenting a troubled character – through her movement and in the (physical) ups and downs she manages a smile. It gives us something to connect to. Also notable was Thami Tshabalala in “Tourette’s”; his quality of movement was fluid and lent to the concept of an unstoppable vocalisation, as he contorted amidst the other dancers, depicting the pressures of speaking in a crowd.

Good signs. And the fact that KMAD is attempting to do more than simply entertain with flash and pizazz dance is a good sign. I was pleasantly surprised with their attempt to imbue the movements with meaning, rather than simply displaying their great technique. It might not have exactly worked for me – I’m a tough customer – but for many, this type of ‘topical’ dance bridges the gap between the dance-for-show styles and more conceptual dance, which challenges notions of what dance has to be, and challenges audiences to think for themselves.

KMAD is… almost there…

– Sarah Roberson

I Am… is next on tomorrow 06 July at 14.00 and 21.30. For info & bookings click here

I Am… by KMAD is directed by Kelsey Middleton.



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