When I first heard of Bounce’s “Insane in the Brain,” billed as “a hip-hop adaptation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest“, I wasn’t particularly interested. Hip-hop isn’t my thing, and Peacock programming usually isn’t my style. But then Clement Crisp waxed rhapsodic and suddenly I was seeing things in a different light. What is there about the thought about this wizened, snooty, ballet fan going wild about hip hop that made me think that this was now a show I couldn’t miss? The idea of him “getting down” kind of cracks me up, but he showed raw enthusiasm (or as raw as it gets when processed through his typewriter) and I was sold. So last night off J and I went for a night of staged street dancing.
It was pretty impressive to walk into a theater full mostly of 17 and 18 year olds who were there to see dance and cheered when the lights went down. Clearly, this piece had some idea of who its audience was meant to be! The underlying story of OWFOtCN is of a man (McMurphy) who gets himself committed to an asylum so he can avoid going to jail. He spends his time cheering up (and probably helping) the inmates, while trying to avoid the clutches of the sadistic guards and the truly evil Nurse Ratchett. While he makes fun of them, he finds out that they actually wield far more power than he ever expected, and in the end finds himself trapped in a place he went to as a joke. Not a happy ending, alas! It wasn’t really something I imagined would do well as a dance piece, but, in fact, it did, and it managed to do so with a minimum of dialogue (just a bit in the first scene).
Dancewise, after the original “introduce the characters, who are having group therapy” scene, the scenes go something like this: dance class; guards abuse the patients after hours; an uneasy night’s sleep; dance class again; outside time (with speaker); Nurse Ratchett shows her power; the breakout (in which the inmates go watch a movie) and capture; electroshock time; planning the final escape; In Which The Virgin Man Is Teased With A Blowup Doll; fight between the guards; break IN and sex scene; McMurphy is finally broken and The End. All this was done to a score that included piles of songs I’d never heard of before (but enjoyed) but also songs I did recognize, like “Express Yourself” and the wordless song from the Matrix, as well as some totally bizarre Astor Piazolla. The scene where they started playing “Maniac” and all of the characters suddenly appeared on stage in 80s dance clothes was hysterical and even managed to duplicate the infamous “shower” scene from Flashdance – and the audience ate it up.
I was enjoying myself, too. I loved the introductory “dancing with our backs to the audience but with mask on our face” piece (low tech yet so clever and effective); the “we’ve lost all control” movement of the three dancers suspended from the ceiling after the electroshock session; the hysterical Bunraku-style inflatable sex doll scene; and Shy Guy’s floating choreography as he starts to feel more confident in himself.
Oddly, though, my very favorite bit was the silent movie, which had three ragamuffin/tramp types break into the house of some upper class Victorians who are sitting down to dinner, complete with servants. When the intruders are detected, a street dance showdown between the two sides takes place that had me dying to see Oliver redone in this style. It was especially fuunny because of the incongruity of a proper Victorian lady shaking her booty and throwing gang attitude to the other crewe. The audience was laughing their heads off … just like me.
So Mr.Crisp was on the money and I’m grateful to him for the tip. This couldn’t have been more different than my stiff night at the Rojo/Brandenberg show, and I was glad for it.
(This review is for a performance that took place September 29th, 2009. Bounce continues at the Peacock through October 3rd – details on the Sadlers Wells website.)