It’s never a pleasant experience taking in the daily headlines at the moment, but the morning after Theresa May’s speech at the Conservative party conference earlier this week, the newsstands were particularly harrowing. Newspaper after newspaper, adorned with near-identical images of a flailing prime minister clinging desperately onto power; shambling her way robotically across the stage in an attempt to demonstrate a nanogram of humanity.
If we’re all being honest with ourselves, there were many more pressing matters in the news that day, and yet here we are, making memes of Theresa May’s Bez routine instead. If one of her sniggering PR advisors came up with the whole idea to cause a bit of distraction – a smoke screen to conceal the fact that nobody has a bloody clue what’s going on with Brexit, as ever – they certainly did an alright job.
But let’s consider another scenario. What if Theresa May’s dancing – in all its mildly threatening, puppet-like rigidness – actually contains a hidden message about the otherwise mysterious state of Brexit negotiations? “The Chequers Plan is a load of shit” her flailing arm movements seem to silently weep.
Since my experience of dance criticism extends to occasionally making very sweeping and unfair judgements while my granny’s watching Strictly Come Dancing, I called in an actual expert to unpick what’s going on here.
Choreographer Rhiannon Faith is a recipient of the Smith-Artaud Award for excellence in Dance Theatre, and her socially conscious work – which she’s performed everywhere from the Barbican to Edinburgh Fringe – “draws autobiographical stories from the communities and artists she works with”.
In other words, if anyone can dig deep into Theresa May’s cranium and tell us what the fuck is going on here, it’s Rhiannon Faith.
“It’s sure-footed, energetic, but perhaps lacking in finesse and creativity,” says Rhiannon, rather generously, of the routine as a whole.
“Similar to the theatrical expression of Ballets Jooss ‘Danse Macabre’ and the gestural movements of Harry Enfield And Chums’ ‘Scouse Alphabet’, May takes inspiration from modern dance influences,” she explains. “The sharp robotic entrance lacks in locking, but the body has motion. Hip undulations, fist clenches, toe taps, springy steps that bounce outside the musical rhythms show that this is a dancer who isn’t afraid of breaking social boundaries.“
With a few lessons from someone who really knows what they’re doing, I envisage vast potential for improvement
Take a look at the frankly terrifying footage of ‘Danse Macabre’ and you’ll see that she’s got a point. Theresa May’s decision to reference a work from 1935 is a fitting one, too, when you consider that by the time we leave the EU with no deal, we’ll probably be enjoying a speedy return to food rationing. Strong and stable!
But does our expert choreographer believe that May possesses any sort of natural rhythm, or talent for storytelling through movement, whatsoever?
“She appears to be rushing through the movements, which at times disrupts the momentum,” Faith says. “The sequence shifts do not feel especially considered. In fact, there could be developments to the structure of the piece as a whole. With explorations into a narrative, she has difficulty translating the depth of the character, which makes it hard for the audience to emotionally engage.
“As an emerging soloist early on in her dance career she is able to command the stage and has a captivating expressive quality,” she adds. “With a few lessons from someone who really knows what they’re doing, I envisage vast potential for improvement.”
The real question is, what can we all learn about Brexit? According to Faith, we’re witnessing a muddled allegory with unclear intentions.
“When in the movement, her body applies a youthful simplicity,” she concludes. “She throws sharp arm shapes with joy and a hint of menace. If May was trying to create parallels between her dance piece and the theme Brexit, then the ritualistic Hokey Cokey might have been a better routine. ‘In out in out shake it all about’.”