Echo Echo Festival. Reflections on 2nd performance of Wonderful World by Collective B.

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Collective B in Wonderful World. Photo: Simon Alleyne/Living Witness

I saw the second performance of Wonderful World by Collective B last night. It is a good sign about the quality of a piece when on second viewing many new elements and details stand out, and when the overall impression is stronger and deeper than the first time.

This time I realised, again, how difficult it is to make good dance-movement based work that reflects on dark themes, and I was even more impressed than on the first view at how Collective B managed this.

I remember my long-time colleague Ursula Lauebli commenting once that the problem with making good dances about evil is that good dancing is always some sort of celebration so you would always risk either bad dancing or celebrating evil.

The problem is that there is a danger of work that is supposed to be “about” a dark theme, or tries to take a critical perspective on such a theme, ending up just adding to the darkness through carelessness or exploitation or just simply cheapening the sensibility to the issue.

With text based performance this problem can be addressed through the way that language is used to reflect on themes, content, ideas and action but with physically based work achieving this kind of “alienation” and layering is less straightforward.

What the Collective B ensemble manages, in Wonderful World, is to invite the audience to “visit” a very dark terrain (several other audience members echoed my own description of the effect of the piece being to make me very anxious). However the “visit” is very well and responsibly guided so the watcher doesn’t feel abandoned or stuck. The experience remains one in which the visitor always feels that they will be able to get home again.

I think this sense of security and confidence is largely to do with the incredible sense of compositional rigor and performance discipline that Collective B display, and is clearly related to the profound musicality I wrote about in yesterday’s blog. The chaos and distress in the themes they work with in Wonderful World are counterbalanced by the deep quality of care and responsibility in the framing of the work as a performative invitation.

Also, the way the piece resolves with the beautiful and vulnerable rendition of Flow My Tears,  a song by 16th century composer John Dowland, creates a textural counterbalance and invites enough human resonance to transform the audience’s experience of the grotesqueness of the preceding +/-50 minutes. The anxiety is released and relieved so that the watcher leaves with hope for humanity and a heartfelt appreciation for the performer’s willingness to take us to visit something important, if rather terrifying, and to bring us back safe and sound, and with a softer more porous skin because of the experience.

The Echo Echo Festival of Dance and Movement continues with See Me Disappear by Ayesha Mailey at 8pm, Friday 8th Nov at Echo Echo Studios.

Check out the full programme at

Steve Batts 07/11/2019


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