Foreign Body, VAULT Festival

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by guest critic Alex Dowding

Sexual assault: It’s sadly been around since the dawn of time, and despite being in focus more than ever now since the #MeToo movement took off on social media, it may not ever go away. Here Imogen Butler-Cole alongside the charity He For She aims to de-stigmatise the dialogue surrounding it with a movement-heavy solo piece.

I did not want to come into this piece with any preconceptions. To see the performer sitting stony-faced in near darkness with seven full length mirrors placed around the stage, I immediately guess it will probably be a show with a heavy subject matter. What I didn’t expect was the performer to remain entirely silent throughout, choosing to express herself through dance alone and with a chair, to the sound of a well-realised soundscape. There are voices, but these come via pre-recorded interviews with people who had experienced, in one way or another, a form of sexual assault. It is a hard listen, which I’m sure was the point, but the concurrent movement made it all strangely beautiful.

I don’t clock the significance of the mirrors and the chair until they are explicitly stated, and when their true purposes were revealed it feels a little too late, almost as if the previous instances of their use would have had more weight if we had known what they represented – but that’s not to discredit their use entirely. One pivotal moment of the chair used alongside the voice of an assaulter and deft use of the lighting rig is an especially engaging although difficult watch.

This show is a brave and abstract way of presenting a horrific act, that leaves the stories wide open to the audience’s individual interpretation without coming across as preachy.

Foreign Body runs through 11 March.

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