Salomé – the Tragedy Reimagined

 In Critical Drafts, Dd Response

Dancers from Salomé

WORDS BY GIANNA MERCANDETTI | IMAGES BY ALFRED GEORGE BAILEY

Chattering voices filled the foyer of The Cockpit Theatre as we waited for the performance of EDIFICE Dance Theatre’s Salomé. A well-crafted production compelling in its construction, the performance featured choreography inlaid with character complexity and raw feeling, and was made in collaboration with the Hastings Philharmonic Ensemble. Part of a tour throughout the U.K., this showing was in London on the evening of June 23rd, 2019. Once the doors opened the audience descended a few stairs to enter the black box theatre. We were aurally greeted by brooding strung harmonies and ethereal operatic voices warping into harp tones as we took our seats around the stage. A visual accompaniment was served in the form of scattered white mannequin pieces—singular limbs, a femur bursting through a sternum, torsos strewn—all illuminated by soft warm light. A bluish tint drew focus to the underside of a table-like surface placed in the center of the room, which became an environmental anchor as the work unfolded. Three musicians entered—Jade Woodhouse on cello, Mikey Sluman on oboe, and Victoria Marsh on violin. Their presence subtly marked a shift into the world of the work.  

Founded & co-directed by Harriet Waghorn and Carmine De Amicis, EDIFICE Dance Theatre, in its fifth season, produces creations that are a blend of contemporary dance and Latin Ballroom forms. In the case of Salomé, a large focus was the musical collaboration resulting in a memorable score: a mix of live and pre-recorded music composed by Phillip O’Meara and conducted by Marcio da Silva. 

The structure of EDIFICE’s Salomé was like that of a play, with the cast entering and exiting scenes of solos, duets, trios, and a lavish, exuberant party wherein the six movers and musicians were masked, creating a collective crowd energy. In varying forms, the themes of desire and rejection wove their way into the interactions of an imprisoned prophet, a king, and his stepdaughter. In this choreographed take, derived from the 1891 play by Oscar Wilde—which in turn was sourced and reimagined from a Biblical account—we were carried through a dance-theatre creation centered on the character development of the three figures: John the Baptist, King Herod, and Salomé.

Enter John the Baptist: In a reddish light, he (Carmine De Amicis) emerged from a corner. His body, half-clad in humble off-white trousers, rolled, arced, and glided around the stage. With a curved upper back, his arms bowed as his body rose upward. At one point, he grabbed his head and neck, as if to foreshadow his later fate. After making contact with the table surface his gaze focused on the corner from which he came, and he energetically exited. 

Enter King Herod: He (Fabio Dolce) entered and made way toward Marsh, whose hair he tasted with his fingers. He took a promenade around the stage with a lustful gaze out at the audience, carrying a jewel-encrusted belt on his hips and rings on his hands. Generally loathsome, he projected opulence and ownership, though at times destabilization. Upon backing into a lone mannequin limb, he was completely disarmed and began to scurry, frantically collecting the scattered limbs. He stuffed them under the table, as if to hide a messy secret, before returning to his previous carriage. 

Enter Salomé: Following the celebratory call and response shape-making of masked party members to an andante pizzicato tune, Salomé (Harriet Waghorn) entered into the fray. Wearing a backless dress, soft-soled boots, and strings of gems around her neck, she joined the ensemble in a frolicking, drunken-like stumble through interchanging partnering in duets and trios. The fluid trading of partners evolved into Salomé perched atop the table, the other five revolving around while reaching toward her, sniffing at her and diving their heads inward. The scene ended with the reveal of her persona by Herod, who removed her mask.

Over the course of an hour, we observed an array of clever and seamless variations of partnered choreography woven into a narrative of emotion and tension. There was the back and forth tousle of John the Baptist and Herod, ending with the former thrown onto the table slab, where he became contained, or imprisoned. Later, Salomé and Herod were seen in a whirling two-step, their bodies vertical, at times referencing a ballroom closed position. Throughout the work, we heard partnering in the blend of live and recorded sound, often working together, though occasionally creating dissonance with one overshadowing the other. The integration of movers and musicians into an ensemble cast felt thoughtful and expertly timed, their navigation of the space and each other allowed roles to give way to a consistent world for viewers to partake in. 

The use of themes from Wilde’s iteration was clear but not overstated—there was time for the audience to arrive into the activity, with space to interpret some of the darker moments. The work presented a semi-abstract narrative that arrived at a dark resolution. It asked its audience to sit with more unpleasant parts of human existence, and grappled with such choices as the immoral prioritization of one’s own desires, lust and obsession, rejection, and the decision to take a life.

Three of the duets reflected cause and effect. First, with Salomé and John the Baptist, we watched a game of pursuit and evasion render their bodies into precarious counterbalances, brimming with the tension of a chase. On the table she held his ribs as he leaned away, and then their spines entwined. The sensual atmosphere erupted as a crashing bass cued Salomé’s change in physicality. She gnawed at the space with her limbs and face, abruptly, in contrast to the previous liquid-like duet. We later watched an exchange in Salomé agreeing to dance with Herod, something she sprinted from earlier in the work. The trade of dancing for him in exchange for something in return played out as her luscious, indulgent movements, followed closely by Herod’s gaze, became a revolving duet ending with Herod emphatically thrust face to face with an idle John the Baptist. Finally, we experienced a marionette-like scenario wherein a reluctant, potentially more morally aware Herod laboriously guided John the Baptist up and with a tentative gait, began to direct his movement. Herod pushed, pulled, and ultimately carried a limp John on his back. The shift to a harsher, more stark light signified an absence—the demise of John the Baptist. 

The resolution to all of the frenetic activity hit with a resonance: loss. The loss of life, which was denoted by the body of John the Baptist, whose head was hanging off the edge of the table where he had been lain—a clever way to denote decapitation. In Salomé, we watched a loss of self, as she devoured her victory and bit at the air, thrusting forward with increasing ferocity. She was then struck by Herod with a lone mannequin limb, and lay still. Herod exhibited a loss of grounding. After he finished building a sculpture of mannequin limbs and brokenness around the two dead, he collapsed, his body thrown onto the floor, and the lights faded.

Salomé seemed to be after the complexities of morality, inviting our reflection on responses to the situations, actions, and energies presented. It operated like a mirror for us to consider our own desires, evasion tactics, relative irrationalism, and reactivity. Presenting forms of loss signified a spectrum of extremes and their potential implications. Not necessarily a cautionary tale, but an opportunity to consider pathways, action, inaction, and reaction. Riding the moral line of how far is too far, Salomé is the kind of work that was engaging to the edge of one’s seat, and prompting of conversation long after it was over.  

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