‘Unlocked’ – the poignant dance performance by Nova Grace Productions reflecting on lockdown 

The performance was held at Fabrica, Duke Street. The immediate contrast between dark corners of the hall, and the set design of the performance – bedsheets on the floor and wooden door frames – felt familiar yet somewhat foreboding. Even walking into the space, there was an atmosphere of knowing what this performance was about (lockdown), but still not really knowing what to expect. Much like the unprecidented nature of corona virus itself.  

‘Unlocked’ was performed in the round, inviting the audience to surround the established chaotic bedroom setting for the opening section. It was intimate and interactive from the moment I took my seat. First, the projector played clips of the dancers in small boxes, exploring the confinements of their own homes through movement. ‘Unlocked’ was created in 2020, during lockdown on Zoom, and it was nostalgic to incorporate the birth of the piece in this manner. 

The Zoom performance continued in the background as the four dancers began to climb into their bedsheets and perform motifs of movement from within them, so that you could just see the outline of their limbs inside the fabric. An experimental representation of restriction. In this first section, motifs of movement included frantic running and washing hands which indicated the clear theme of March 2020. Society was fearful of this pandemic, confined to their bedrooms and stuck on zoom meetings, indicated by one dancer taking a seat and opening a laptop. Of course, the dancers did not perform any contact at first. 

Having the Zoom performance occur as well as the live performance was, at times, jarring to the eyes because I was not sure where to look. Especially as the four dancers we separated by the door frames and the in-the-round set meant that it was difficult to watch all four of them simultaneously. With that being said, perhaps this is also reminant of lockdown. We were all going through the same thing, but living our lives completely separately. The choreography being sometimes out of time with the screen was simply representational of how impossible it is to keep in time when participating in an online dance class. 

The projector displayed touching images of ‘Thank You NHS’ posters, as the dancers imitated the 8 o’clock claps on door steps. They used the door frames in fascinating ways, moving them and using impressive strength to climb and hang from them. I commend their seamless set transitions and use of props. There was also a comical section where they danced with mops and feather dusters to mimic cleaning the home. 

Then, we heard the announcement that rule of six was allowed and the screen showed phone recordings of the dancers meeting up in parks and gardens to perform together. A particularly touching moment was the dancers miming a waltz, but separately, not yet allowed to dance with their partner. Meanwhile, the live dancers had joyous expressions as they performed moments of contact and the costume change into bright colours reflected the change in emotion. I could see experimentations of how bodies may express boundaries or explorations of touch, which I presume is a true experience the dancers had to face. There were also images of the dancers waiting in line at supermarkets, and passing a toilet roll between them. Then suddenly, there is a cough…

Overall, the performance was thought-provoking and meaningful. It is an extremely relevant social piece that forces the audience to think about this modern history we have gone through, and are only just beginning to understand. The final section is the newest, titled ‘reflections’. The dancers finally became connected to each other via unison, canon and accumulation for this finale. It felt freeing to watch as the dancers took turns to leap across the space, spin and extend their limbs in their own new found freedom. While the dancers looked beautiful together, they each had their moment to shine in what felt like a celebration of simply being able to embrace dance again. 

Congratulations to choreographer Karen Hill for arranging such a wonderful piece, and thank you Rosy Nevard, co-founder of Nova Grace Production, for inviting me to witness ‘Unlocked’ at Brighton Fringe.

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