Transformation is a solo show by Gemskii, a former drug addict lesbian dancer, based on her abused past, mental breakdown then recovery, performed as storytelling with dance and choreographed set pieces. It almost fulfils the stereotype of the fringest of fringe theatre except... it is not awful. It is instead a captivating piece of autobiographical theatre that is impossible not to be moved by.
Neither inviting or brushing off pity, Gemskii tells her story in a literal gallop, leaping and cartwheeling from druggy, violent, abusive relationships to exploitative dancing jobs to blackholes of unshakeable despair. Some would dismiss Transformation as mere live action misery memoir, others may cringe at the physical style of storytelling, but somehow it comes together in her winning, warm and inviting pesona. After a lengthy, exhausting but exhilarating re-enactment of fighting off seven attackers on the top of an Indian mountain while travelling, she acknowledged our applause, smiled and accepted it, accepted us, then moved on. This bridge from performer to viewer was perhaps the most moving part: to realise this woman was inviting us into her painful past and making us part of her brighter future, just by witnessing her performance. It was humbling and uplifitng, a rare combination for any theatre audience.
Her commitment to this tough act is deeply admirable, and as she is a fully trained dancer, the piece never veers into drama school approximations of physical theatre. For these reasons, no matter how tough the tale, it is very watchable. Scarred though she may be after self-harm, sexual abuse and drug abuse, Gemskii is honed and sculpted for the task, fighting fit and springing out whole, unbroken from the void her life was previously. She is transformed by the telling of her own story. And so are the audience.
Photo by Mark Griffiths