As part of VAULT Festival at The Vaults of Waterloo I went to see Becoming Shades, a mesmerising immersive circus interpretation of the myth of Persephone and Hades featuring (you guessed it) pole dancers, aerialists, fire eaters and singers.
Few things can convince me to drag my ass out in the snow, but most of them are pole dance related. Becoming Shades at VAULT Festival was one of them. A dark circus made of ancient Greek myths and aerial acrobatic performances, it sounded precisely like my cup of tea. Extra motivation came from the fact that my incredible pole and aerial hoop instructor Anna McDonnell is also one of the main performers on the show.
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With -3 °C outside, stepping into the graffiti-covered space of The Vaults was what we needed. Becoming Shades was set in the Forge, one of the big theatres at the end of The Vaults’ main corridor.
Entering the space, with a bar right at the entrance and a cordoned main space left completely in the dark, we were left to wonder what to expect. It all looked potentially terrifying. Not only was it a descent into the underworld – it being an immersive theatre night, there was the potential chance of having to interact with the audience or performers. I am an awkward show-off, so this was kinda worrying.
Luckily, by the time Charon arrived, wearing something not unlike an old diver mask with illuminated portholes for eyes, we understood we were free to interact as much as we pleased.
Moving across different spaces within the theatre, upstairs, in different corners, by a stage, we explored each step of Persephone’s descent into the underworld. Initially, everything seemed to follow the ancient Greek myth. The three dancers wore dog masks representing Cerberus, and Persephone (Rebecca Rennison) performed a beautiful, almost lyrical solo.
Then the show began to use its creative licence and became unique in its own right. Playing a lost soul, Anna McDonnell delivered a beautiful static and spinning pole performance communicating the fear and torment of someone pursued by furies/dancers with unspeakable class.
The beauty of this immersive theatre experience is that, by moving around the space, you can watch these performances close enough to appreciate performers’ every movement and muscle. Knowing all the hard work and effort that goes into aerial arts, I was filled with admiration and awe for this beautiful rendition of one of my favourite myths.
Becoming Shades calls itself an all female story of empowerment, love and choices. Made of eight stunning women aerialists, the show turns Persephone’s kidnapping into a choice to embrace the darkness.
Her journey is initially depicted through an aerial silks performance, followed by the most incredible double act I’ve ever seen. A dual routine between Persephone and Hades (Alfa Marks) saw the two characters use each other to climb the rope and then drop to the floor, leaving the audience astonished.
My favourite routine was however the final performance by Persephone, who did drops, splits and toe hangson a burning aerial hoop. Having done a toe hang myself – and having nearly died in it – all I can say is: RESPECT.
Aside from interaction with performers, the immersive element also continued during the break. The furies tried to steal my shoes, and Charon’s very own dice game predicted I’d be the victim of an accident at the theatre. I didn’t take it personally… *touches wood*. Various corners of the space had been turned into dark forests with screaming souls, or empty, eerie rooms.
Director Laurane Marchive describes the process behind creating the show as a way of teasing the public:
“We wanted to weave together an adventure for people to embark on, but we didn’t want to give audience members clear answers.”
Created by The Chivaree Circus the show is brilliant precisely because it’s baffling, mesmerising, allowing the audience to interpret it as they please and to join performers as they see fit. When I sat in the front I got to hold the torch to illuminate one of Anna’s performances as she was dancing on ropes, trying to escape the furies.
The music, sang and composed by Sam West and Becks Johnston, added an extra dimension to the show. At times blues, at times rock, at times electronic, accompanied by voices giving you chills down your spine. The music, together with the show’s quirks and darkness, turned Hades and Persephone’s story into a mesmerising Lynchian dark circus.
Although I am exposed to this kind of performances every single day at my local pole studio, I still left completely mesmerised and in awe of each and every act. And that’s saying something.
Now in its sixth year, VAULT Festival started on 24 January and will run until 18th March 2018 with 300 individual shows, championing new writing, immersive experiences, comedy, film and late night entertainment.
The programme is broader and more diverse than ever before. The VAULT New Writers Award, round-tables on gender equality and a partnership with the iF Platform all contribute to VAULT’s continued commitment to nurturing and presenting the broadest and best selection of contemporary performance.
Premium Tickets to Becoming Shades (£29.50) include a “Becoming Shades Cocktail”, a premium Brochure and a CD with the original music from the show composed and produced especially for Becoming Shades.
London SE1 7NN
Pictures: Chivaree Circus