Strange Fish is all about couples and coupling, but exclusively heterosexual and ordinary ones. It focuses on the female part of the union - sirens, Mary Magdalenesand scarlet women - those females who confuse and confound the boys and lead them astray. Earlier DV8 pieces involved most of the same dancers jumping on each other, climbing ropes and falling on the ground. This work is more theatre, relationship therapy and pop psychology than acrobatics.
The amazing set opens with a chiaroscuro crucifixion, an emaciated Christ on the cross, ivory face hanging to one side, brown curls tumbling across a bony shoulder, classically naked but for a ragged cloth wrapped around the waist. Breasts hang above the hollow rib-cage, this Christ is a woman and she's singing a sort of mass later explained to be 'English backwards or Latin.'
The crucifixion gives way to a coupling/uncoupling and the beginning of the jumping, along with flirting and kissing, all of which ends with Wendy Houstoun as the cheese (standing alone). In her desparation, she tries harder and harder to seduce a man, trying to break other relationships culminating in a scene in which Nigel Charnock is roped to a cross/mast à la Ulysses by the sirens, while a murky swimming pool spashes threateningly nearby. Of course, Wendy draws Ulysses/Nigel to his watery death. Strange fish, those mermaids.
Along the way, Wendy is ostracised, jeered and stoned by the others, made to undress and wander about the stage half-naked. 63 year-old Diana Payne-Myers, in a superhuman performance as a maid-matron character, is also tossed about, humiliated and harassed to the point of tears, so much so that finally she disappears off-stage (perhaps simply to recover from the exhausting game of catch - in which she's is the ball). The whole story ends up with Christ strung up again and Wendy/Mary Magdalene kissing her on the lips.
Unfortunately, all the cuopling and relationships, girls checking out the boys drags on a bit too long, especially because the boys get the final say. In the tedious second act the enchantment of pure dance and pantomime is shattered by rather pedestrian dialogues that bring the work into the realm of theatre or, that anachronism, performance art. It is a shock to hear their voices, especially Wendy's, which is disconcertingly squeaky given her strong physical presence.
Peter J. Davidson's set is mesmerising and inviting. Lit first by a painting, then an art gallery or with ghostly shipwrecked scenes like a Robert Wilson play, it's magical and unpredictable. The background is a sort of adult playhouse with things to climb up and down, shuttered windoes that open and close and expose passing legs or middles, balconies to sit on, and places to throw things - like oneself - out of. Performers can jump up out of the floorboards, and dive in and out of hidden swimming pools. Part of the excitement is trying to guess where the next character will pop up and how that pool under the stage really works.
Unfortunately, Strange Fish ends with some worn-out conclusions about female sexuality. The girls who get the boys are less self-possessed or completely floppy or dippy. The 'successful' girls don't switch from one boy to another - while at least one boy seems to have an extra-relationship-relationship - and the siren does end up very much alone. Unlike the loaves and fish, the female doesn't provide enough for everyone, rather she provides too much, losing herself in the process. The reactions towards her are as presictable as Nathaniel Hawthorne's townspeople's. There's lots of imagery from your catechism classes, if you pay attention, baptisms, rebirths, purgatories and everyone gets her just rewards. So while the set is great, the music magical and the dancers dynamic, the plot - because this is theatre with a narrative and plenty of character development - is disappointing. As far as the performance goes, this seems to take more cues from Barthes-esque television wrestling than dance.