In Haunt

An overview by Rebecca Wynne-Walsh

What better way to celebrate the Gothic Manchester Festival 2019’s past month of immersive events, activities and get-togethers, than with a spectacular, or indeed ‘spook-tacular’ dance and musical theatre show: ‘Monster Mash: A Halloween Dance Spectacular’. It was the evening before Halloween (Wednesday 30 October) and the atmosphere in the historic venue of Oxford Road's The Dancehouse was high in anticipation for this varied dance event, involving creative costume and a number of performance styles.

The show was jointly organised by Dr Emma Liggins (of The Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies) and Moira Hancock, who runs the Dance Academy - a Manchester-based dance school. Performers were impressively dressed and a range of themed and fantastic make-up could be seen, with Ellie Bebbington as make-up artist for the evening. Caitlin Jauncey, in full witch costume, was a darkly dynamic stage manager.

Gothic Dance

The evening kicked off with an enlightening introduction from Manchester Metropolitan University’s own Dr Emma Liggins (also of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies) who highlighted the longstanding connection between theatre, particularly the medium of dance, and the Gothic. Emma offered a thoroughly intriguing introduction of the stage and the performing arts as a historically Gothic space well-suited to displays of violence, the supernatural, wearing disguises and imagining dark and enchanting worlds.  Examples ranged from the Shakespearean witches most famous for the “double double toil and trouble” chant to Wicked’s ever-popular green witch Elphaba. She also talked about the stage as a place of the uncanny, where dolls come to life, the undead dance with the living and the dance of the black swan captivates the audience. Also featuring was the icon of the longest-running Broadway and West End show of all time, the eponymous Phantom of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s opera.

The Phantom himself made an appearance during the show as Jake Bloem from Shena Simon College offered a haunting and powerful rendition of one of the show’s most instantly recognisable numbers ‘The Music of the Night’. Though the focus of the show was firmly rooted in dance, the singers must be credited for their stellar performances which included the aforementioned excerpt from Phantom and solo vocalist Xander’s interpretations of Halloween classics. These included Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ and ‘It’s All Coming Back to me Now’, a song made famous by Meat Loaf but itself inspired by one of the most revered texts of Gothic literature, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Tracks such as these presented the Gothic as a transmedial mode in perpetual mutation - as it adapts to any number of time periods, cultural settings and modes of performance.

The Dancehouse

The dance performances themselves offered a wide array of interpretations of the meanings and applicability of the Gothic. Dance styles presented included contemporary, ballet, jazz, street commercial and musical theatre. Highlights included The Dance Academy’s narrative dance set in an Asylum, the dance duo Anarchy’s street dance inspired by the horror film The Purge (James DaMonaco, 2013) and a melancholically moving solo ballet number by Dance Academy member Rose O’Hanlon to another Lloyd Webber song, ‘Memory’ from the renowned musical Cats. In addition, two striking contemporary numbers were presented by Reforma, choreographed by Candice Waterman and Keith Garlick, exploring the power of control in a hierarchical system and the ways in which people can be influenced and manipulated.

Credit must also be given to the hosts of the night Matthew Chapel and Steven Jackson. This comedic duo, who may be familiar to audiences who have attended the annual Dancehouse panto, acted as a thoroughly dynamic and entertaining master of ceremonies partnership. They encouraged audience interaction and plenty of laughter throughout the evening.

Zombie Make Up

This dance spectacular was yet another wonderful event as part of the Gothic Manchester Festival 2019. The show was a wonderful example of the contemporary and often unexpected applicability and value of contemporary interaction with and performance of the Gothic as it continues to haunt our screens and stages.

Photography: Images 1 and 3 - credit to Dr Emma Liggins, Image 2 -  Reforma, credited to Candice Waterman.




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