On 5 July, Destination is the first show I watch during this year’s Julidans Festival. In 2016, its creator Yang Zhen from China was a resident at Julidans Next Artist’s Lab, an initiative that offers emergent choreographers the facilities and support to create works. The title of the work refers to a known gay bar in the underground scene of Beijing.
Walking into the Melkweg theatre, I find the stage lit with a red rectangle on the floor and illuminated tiles on the back wall, reminding me of a dance floor. Four male-passing performers are standing next to some big colourful plastic garbage bins. Their costumes, brightly coloured eccentric suits, spandex bathing suits and high heels, make for something between disco and 90s rave aesthetic.
The dancers stare into the audience and start to hum out of tune. Quickly after, a techno-house music beat enters the space. Each stands in front of a bin, matching its colour to their respective outfits. Moving in a staccato and articulated manner, the cast then retreats towards the back of the stage. Once they find themselves in the centre, they collectively look upwards and slowly hug each other. This moment seems to leave the audience out of whatever the four experienced that brought them to this moment, which is the first of many of these senseless episodes.
Gimmicking gestures and cliché dance moves such as the Batusi, the disco fingers, or exaggeratedly posing, the dancers seem to reach a state of frenzy as techno music plays. Their strangely timed smiles and attempts at sexual innuendo create an unsettling narrative. As if traditionally choreographed movements were a requirement, the quartet starts moving in a modern dance form to even counts. The performers seem to be performing themselves and for themselves.
The piece switches between movement and theatrical attempts, crowned by a monologue by Justin Brown about the political value of art. Slightly patronizing and defiant, but without really being convincing, he exaggeratedly goes on making trite observations about the actions we partake in out of compulsion rather than really wanting to (such as staying seated until the end of the show, or visiting family during the holidays). Something about the masses being sheep and submissive to greater powers…nothing new from my perspective.
Without really investigating any particular movement language or dramaturgical research, this piece feels more like a patchwork of ideas put together. The Chinese choreographer is considered controversial in his homeland, and some of his works are not allowed to be shown there. Despite the repressive Chinese government, notions around gender and sexuality are shifting among younger generations. Throughout the work I kept questioning myself if it’s my Western perspective that expected this ‘controversy’ to take shape differently. In fact, the way I experienced the work was a mere series of clichés that could have belonged to any other Western work addressing gay repression. The particularities of this conceptual frame in relation to the artistic content and choices failed to land.