21 Mar 2024

Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young - Kidd Pivot in Assembly Hall

A diverting and very different night of theatre dance at Sadler’s Wells…

Kidd Pivot in Assembly Hall. Photo © Michael Slobodian.Kidd Pivot in Assembly Hall. Photo © Michael Slobodian.

Crystal Pite & Jonathon Young / Kidd Pivot
Assembly Hall
London, Sadler’s Wells
20 Mar 2024
Runs through to Saturday 23 March 2024

Crystal Pite is one of the most in-demand choreographers in the world and rightly so for the way she fuses dancers together as living, breathing, groups of humanity that can often deeply touch us. And it’s work I generally find absorbing and interesting.

Separately, with Canadian theatre artist Jonathon Young, Pite has developed a strand of theatre dance — note I don’t say dance theatre because it seems more theatre than dance — that relays narrative ideas via recordings of the spoken word, often given much greater punch by whole body mime, plus other movement to tell more complex stories than dance alone could show. In the UK, Betroffenheit (2016), The Statement (2018, danced by Nederlands Dans Theater rather than her own company) and Revisor (2020) have largely been critically well-received, gutsy examples, if they have not universally always drawn me in. A Pite premiere in the UK is always eagerly awaited, but for me the theatre dance strand invariably has a question mark around if it will really hit-home, or not.

Assembly Hall, the latest Pite/Young work, was premiered by Kidd Pivot (Pite’s own company) just 5 months ago in Canada, and has an oddly intriguing subject: set in a dingy community hall, it charts the AGM of a group of medieval re-enactors. Yep, very off the wall and not without humour. But in reality, it’s an exploration of a dysfunctional group, of probably very normal folks in everyday life, their demons, their dreams and flights of fancy, and the need to be involved in something.

Things start reasonably straightforwardly as the eight committee members of Quest Fest” meet at the AGM where the agenda is a mix of the petty, mundane and expected like financial and community outreach reports. But hovering over all is an item to dissolve the organisation for lack of money and support. Within the eight, there are various factions for and against this or that, and there are shades of The Statement as they argue and seek to influence others. But during the financial report, things start to fall apart, and we slip into the surreal, dreamlike, world of medieval re-enactment. Occasionally this is just as you might expect, innocent’ and silly play fighting, but other times it’s deeply individual and challenging to follow as medieval plot ideas spill out all over, including a recurring one around a Damsel in Distress.

Assembly Hall is most definitely not a comedy but has much wit and humour as it subtly unpacks the psyche of the group as they grapple with their very existence. Along the way, we get some beautiful painterly images and some, just some, gorgeous dance sections as the group tug and push themselves every which way. And we eventually do get a vote on dissolution, framed around the individual Dave who can’t decide which way to vote and goes into glorious meltdown under the pressure.

But near the end of its 90 minutes, I wrote in my notes, It’s clever, but do I really care?” And the answer is no, not so much really. I think to care and get more bound up, I’d need to understand a bit more about what’s happening and what the intention is of the various scenes — a more discernible plot or through-line if you like. As it stands, it’s an oddball roller-coaster of a dream. A diverting and different night at The Wells for sure, and I’m glad I have seen it, but ultimately, I prefer the side of Crystal Pite that concentrates on choreography and dance.