ILLEGAL DANCE by Avant Garde Dance Company at Korzo in The Hague

It could almost be said to be British week at the Holland Dance Festival with Simon McBurney’s second production with NDT and a visit to Korzo from the London-based Avant Garde Dance Company.

I am a little out of touch with what’s happening in the UK and it is with shame that I have to admit that I had never come across Tony Adigun’s company, even though it has been going for twenty-three years and is one of the leading exponents of contemporary dance in England. Although this is the first time that the Avant Garde has performed in The Netherlands, Mr Adigun has been involved as a judge with RIDDC (Rotterdam International Duet Dance Competition) for some time.

Illegal Dance is by any standard a tour de force, incorporating every aspect of theatre with perhaps the sole exception of singing. Basically developing from hip-hop and urban street dance the Avant Garde Dance Company integrates seamlessly with music, literature, circus and digital media. The company is now fully formed in its own niche and could hold its own on any stage of contemporary dance you care to mention.

This overtly political piece is set in a dystopian world, a world where the arts have been forced underground and dance is outlawed. Dancers are killed or marginalized and dance riots take place on the streets. This may seem fanciful but over the centuries, and even now in totalitarian religious regimes, dancing has been vilified or forbidden.

The intensity of the production is unrelenting, increased by the fact that the audience has to wear headphones throughout so that the text, spoken live by the performers and the music/soundscape can be integrated and balanced. I thought this device worked exceptionally well and it drew one into the action, providing a more intimate and personal relationship with it.

Illegal Dance is quite a long show presented in a series of tableaux, short sequences or stories involving the ensemble or individual dancers. There are minimal pieces of physical décor – a battered leather wing-back chair, a kitchen table, half a dozen upright chairs and a roll-top bath but visually it is the lighting and use of projections that mark the production. Sometimes on the back wall, sometimes on the stage itself, sometimes representational and sometimes geometric abstraction, the projections are fundamental to the show, creating an environment and atmosphere to guide and enlighten our senses. I particularly liked the use the upstage lamp that turned constantly, sweeping shafts of light across the usually fairly dark stage. Were these beams of light from a lighthouse providing guidance or safe haven or was it a police searchlight seeking out miscreants?

Although essentially a dance piece Illegal Dance is much much more than that with the text contributing as much as the movement and lighting. Each of the seven performers wore a head microphone and each delivered their lines with the same skill that they applied to their moves.

This was total, immersive theatre at its creative best. Even though running for nearly two hours it never flags for one minute and keeps the audience involved and attentive throughout.

Illegal Dance is the best thing I have seen this year – I know it’s only the beginning of February but I’m sure that epithet will apply for some time to come. Brilliant.  Michael Hasted   7th February 2024

Illegal Dance is part of the Holland Dance Festival which continues until 25th February.