During a recent bout of illness whilst laid in bed feeling a bit sorry for myself, I opened a copy of Red magazine and found a recommendation for Vincent Dance Theatre’s, Motherland. I was a bit taken aback to see it had made one of their top picks for April 2014. To be clear, I wasn’t surprised by their choice but more the inclusion of a piece of contemporary dance theatre featured in a glossy ladies mag. Breakthrough, I thought. It’s not all about skincare and Gywneth Paltrow after all.
In reality, the inclusion of Motherland was a tiny mention and a small picture in and amongst the large shiny pages advertising perfumes, high heeled shoes and designer make up brands. Amusing really, given the context of the show explores women in all their guises and looks at the portrayal of adults through the eyes of a young girl. Nevertheless, I was delighted that a piece of theatre had entered the world of a commercial lady mag. Well done Vincent Dance Theatre.
I watched Motherland in Autumn 2012 at the Nuffield Theatre in Lancaster. I had a flu type bug and was running a high temperature. I went alone to the theatre and sat in my seat wondering if I should have opted for a lemsip and an early night. It may have been my delicate state of ill health or it may have been the emotional place I found myself in at the end of 2012 but Motherland was utterly moving. I left the theatre crying and found I couldn’t stop. The floodgates had opened and all my thoughts and feelings of the past few years came rolling out in big tear shaped drops.
Motherland was probably aimed at women like me. Many of the themes were about having children, parenting, relationships, the role of women etc. etc. It was like catnip. Having had two children, one in 2007 and one in 2010, I was still learning about my new role of being a mother, my new body (somewhat different to the one which trained as a dancer at the end of the 90′s) and how this all impacted on my career, my relationships and my understanding of who I was. All very deep, I hear you sigh, but the reality is that as you get older, things happen…grown up things like having babies, getting married, owning a house etc. Life changes and you have to figure out where you stand.
This may all sound a bit self indulgent but I needed a piece of theatre like Motherland. Life had moved at a really quick pace since my partner (now husband) and I had sat drunkenly in a pub on my birthday and decided to have a baby. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was one of the best decisions we ever made but once you go down that road, the snowball effect of adulthood gathers you up and sends you off in directions that you never knew existed. It was in 2012, that I was pulled out of the snow and forced to think about who I was, what had happened and where I was heading. People talk about going travelling and ‘finding themselves’…I’d only made it as far as the local theatre but that was exactly what was going on.
The themes of Motherland clearly resonated with me but music was the main device that forged the connection. The music in Motherland is wonderful. From the opening sequences in which the performers address the audience by simply walking, stopping and looking to the ensemble singing at the end. “Why oh why,oh why? Why oh why, oh why? Because, because, because, because. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.” There was an honesty in the music and the way in which the cast used this to communicate with the audience that was humbling. If you weren’t sold on other aspects of this work, I defy you not to fall in love with the score.
I have also never seen such a talented and engaging group of performers on stage. If you looked up the word ‘ensemble’ in the dictionary, there should be a photograph of this group of people together. A mix of ages, genders, shapes and sizes and nationalities all working beautifully. The starkness of black and white set and costumes, the symbolic use of the colour red and the powdery grains of soil and dirt all combined to communicate love, pain, birth and death.
This was not a perfect piece of theatre in my mind, the repetition became sometimes painful to watch and there was a predictability about it all. Perhaps this was the point though? Life is repetitive and it can feel predictable. My own experience of parenting has taught me this. We begin each day at 7am, we have the same routines, the same stresses, the same “…we’re going to be late if we don’t…brush our teeth now/put that bear down/put our shoes on/take those pants off your head.” Life is not always a bag of suprises. Having said that, I was completely absorbed by Motherland and I thought about it for days, weeks and months afterwards. The sign of something great in my books.
So, Motherland is touring again and it’s playing in Leeds at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on the 3rd April. Part of me doesn’t want to see it, in case my love of this work was too closely connected to the flu or my state of mind in 2012. I want the rawness of my feelings when watching it to remain. I don’t want to find it any less than I did before.
….I will go though. I want to support this work and pay money for my ticket. I also want to take my parental friends. I want them to be moved in the way I was. This one, I can sell in the playground. There’s something to connect with…it’s about us all.
Whilst you can see that Motherland was a hit in my books, it did divide the audience and I was left wondering if it would be as moving if I was a man? Is this a piece of theatre for women? A feminist theatrical feast? I’m tempted to take my husband to watch it but I’m scared I’ll be disappointed by his reaction. I’ll want him to love it and he might just think it’s a bit…well…’challenging’.
I personally think that man or woman, there is something here for everyone. It’s a commentary on life, on what it means to live in a world of complexities and confusion. Yes, it says a lot about gender but it says more about simply existing – male or female – we are all born, we all age and we all die. Where Motherland comes into its own is how it lays humanity bare before us.
I was left thinking about my own daughters and about the world they will grow up in. There’s an odd conundrum in parenting which exists within the fine line between guiding your child through the minefield of childhood and adolescence and allowing them to explore and discover on their own. You can only take them so far before you need to let go. We cannot be spoonfed our futures.
My mum once told me that parenthood is one long lesson in letting go. I think there is some truth in that.