This dance theatre performance based on Australian David Hicks' experiences as a detainee at Guantanamo Bay packs a lot of visual punches but doesn't speak up enough.
Director Nigel Jamieson and choreographer Garry Stewart have created a powerful and breath-taking production that depicts the treatment of those kept by the US government without charge or trial through an astonishing series of aerial work and dance performed inside a huge metal cage. Projections of text ranging from the Geneva convention to FBI files listing all acceptable forms of interrogation alongside video clips of Hicks' parents talking about David's torture provides context and connects the bodies on stage in their distinctive orange jumpsuits to the horrors that are being described.
The performers go through extraordinary motions depicting the anguish and agonies meted out in Guantanamo and the aerial work on wires and elastic cords allows the performers to run up walls, tumble over and over in mid-air and hang suspended in nude torment. The relentlessness of the movement is forceful and extreme with the six performers throwing themselves against the cage walls, attacking and brutalising one another in ensemble sequences, in writhing despair in solo scenes. The choreography is just jaw-dropping. There is no tenderness in the way they touch one another, there is no moment of rest in the 70 minutes of the performance. It leaves the mouth dry with astonishment to think that this level of inhumane violence we see as dance is happening for real for the likes of David Hicks.
The lack of live speech was effective in highlighting how the detainees have no way of being heard and in the sobering text scrolled over the empty stage at the end, we were forced to recognise how their stories are suppressed and will continue to be stifled. However, this ultimately does not engage the audience as fully as possible as the performers remain just dancers depicting what is said in the video and text projections; they do not become characters we can connect with except through the movements of their bodies.
A gap remains between what Hicks' parents and the various text projections are saying, what the performers are interpreting through dance and what we in the audience are meant to do with these fairly separate elements. In the final scenes when the performers have shed their orange jumpsuits and are in tortured stances around the stage, black bags over their heads with images from Abu Ghraib behind them, there was a desperate lack of sound from them, and it would have been the final most brutal kick to the guts in an already gut-wrenching performance to have a bit of live noise. An astonishing, bold and thrilling performance nonetheless that brings back to our consciousness the outrages of Guantanamo Bay.
Honour Bound, the Barbican, until Saturday 17 November. For more information go to the Barbican website here
Image courtesy of jonmclean from the Londonist Flickr pool.