Catalysed by surrealist artist Max Ernst’s second collage-novel, A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil (1930), Da-da-darling comprises the apotheosis of a collaboration between seven dancers and a sound designer (Matt Webb).
Ernst’s novel describes the blasphemous and erotic dream of sixteen-year-old Marceline-Marie, in which she is split into two—schizophrenically—consequently becoming both Marceline and Marie. It is replete with bizarre and uncanny imagery, and it is therefore not surprising that Da-da-darling is visually extremely bold: sensual, macabre and transgressive.
The dancers, who met while training at Rambert Ballet School and subsequently founded their very interesting Impermanence Dance Theatre, are phenomenal. Their vibrant energy never falters throughout the production, and even at the curtain call they look as if they could easily dance it all again. Their movements appear at times transcendentally ecstatic, at others completely possessed, but they are nevertheless always beautifully precise and controlled.
There is nothing about this production that feels as if it hasn’t been carefully premeditated: it is a real synthesis of movement, sound, costume and lighting. It is structured as a series of scenes—analogous to the series of collages in Ernst’s book—that seamlessly progress before us: a succession of animated tableaux. However, although each of these scenes works extremely well on its own, the overarching rhythm of the work as a whole doesn’t quite hit the mark.
The irony of presenting this work in a converted church cannot have been lost on the company. However, it is a shame that the sight lines are so poor: it is impossible to take in the whole of the stage, and the dancers are often obscured by the front safety bars. Nevertheless, this is an impressive production with some of the best dancers to be seen at the Fringe, and it is absolutely worth putting up with the deficiencies of the venue, to see this unique performance.