Boxe Boxe: A Dance Mash-Up. By Shawn Harmon.

Compagnie Kӓfig’s Boxe Boxe, performed at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh on 2 April 2014, is a fascinating mixture of contemporary and breakdance together with boxing and kick boxing, although the dominant narrative is that of classical boxing. Its checkerboard floor, use of lighting, and the movement of the eight dancers and four musicians in and out of the various scenes give it a palpable Alice in Wonderland quality, and the wrought iron gothic of the props (a crib-cum-ring, four musician chairs, and a gate) are worthy of a Tim Burton film.
The performance begins with hands clad in boxing gloves rising from a crib like snakes being charmed by the music of the violins and bass, their twitching, swaying, and jabbing a synchronis with the music as they discover movement. Eventually, some fully formed boxers extricate themselves from the crib/ring and begin to explore their power, engaging with each other, at first playful and then more serious. Costumed in late 19th century boxing garb, they also strike poses strongly reminiscent of the days of the mighty Jack Johnson. The trainer/referee, swaddled in a crimson and black fat suit, provides much of the comic relief, but the piece is shot through with humour as the performers move between training (with speed bags, heavy bag, and punch paddles) and combat. Throughout the piece, actions are instigated by the music, which is very much integrated into the narrative, but the dancers themselves are not always in synch with one another. A potential shortcoming in other contexts, it works nicely here for the ‘sweet science’ is about a collaborative movement of dust and bone, not synchronicity.
At one point, a foursome dances together, perhaps a nod to the ‘four kings’ (the incomparable Roberto Duran, Marvellous Marvin Hagler, Thomas ‘The Hitman’ Hearns, and the technician, Sugar Ray Leonard) who exhilarated the boxing world throughout the 1980s. At another point, as the music takes an ominous turn, a single performer works himself to collapse – the fall of a fighter. What follows thereafter – shadow boxing and swiping at punch paddles held by fighters sheltered behind the a prop and at the edge of darkness – reminds one of Nigel ‘The Dark Destroyer’ Benn’s complete if unintended dismantling of Gerald McClellan in 1995. McClellan succumbed to a brain damage in the aftermath of that fight, and like him, the performer seems to battle on alone in his mind. The performance closes with the dancers receding and the musicians taking centre stage. Then the boxers gather behind the gothic gate, evocative of the closed cemetery gate.
If I understood it correctly, and there’s no guarantee that I did, Boxe Boxe is a telling of the boxer’s life, full of energy and pace, strength and athleticism, before sliding into decline. The dancers rise to crescendos of movement along with the music, and ease us to moments of stillness, and the whole is tempered with instances of levity. A performance thoroughly enjoyable. As far as I know, Boxe Boxe boasted no disabled performers; at least none were visibly differently abled. But the choreography of Boxe Boxe was such that a range of bodies could certainly be accommodated; indeed there were particular instances where different bodies would have changed the narrative very little. But that raises a question. If a piece is contributed to by differently abled dancers, should we expect the narrative to change? It might do so, and we might want it to in some instances, but need it change? Would Boxe Boxe have been the same piece – the same story – with one or more disabled dancers in the action?
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