9pm, Lilian Baylis Studio, London. Myself and four other women are ushered into a corridor and given warnings by a strangely dressed theatre attendant, about asthma or epilepsy. We are then led through double doors, down a slope and into a dark, silent room. We enter in groups of five and join a crowd already seated on wooden blocks in front of a screen, waiting expectantly. Projected onto said screen are various dates, including the invention of the contraceptive pill, and the beginning of the Russian Revolution. These are complemented by significant events in the lives of Project O's own founders, Alexandrina Hemsley and Jamila Johnson-Small. It seems that Project O is not simply about aesthetic performance; it draws attention to events demonstrative of the marginalisation of certain groups, taunted with the prospect of freedom. Already, the performance feels immersive.
Once the crowd has settled, two women seated behind us rise, and begin to move, almost brokenly, through the rows towards the screen at the front. They snake and lurch across the floor until they reach the projection, at which point they each take a hammer and begin to strike the screen. When they finish, a gaping hole is left so that the text is no longer visible, and a cloud of dust surrounds the room's focal point - for sufferers of asthma, masks are provided. It seems significant that there are limitations to the extent with which the two women can actually cause destruction - this is perhaps symbolic of the restrictions imposed upon our respective identities, merely as existing beings.
Project O's Voodoo. Photograph courtesy of Sadler's Wells.
The two dancers cocoon themselves in cotton bags and are dragged into the audience once again. An uncomfortable confusion has since settled, exacerbated only a few seconds later by a voice over a speaker, instructing that we remove our shoes and place them at the side of the room. The assistants then proceed to rearrange the benches so that an elongated space is formed in the centre of the room. It is interesting to now be able to see not only the performers as they slowly remove themselves from encasement, but the ensuing reactions from members of the audience. The notion that the performance depicts ‘an attempt to never be caught or trapped, to visit and leave behind former selves, to move and transform’ rings particularly true.
In the spirit of interactivity, the voice once again issues commands, this time urging us to join the performers in lying down. It feels strange and slightly uncomfortable to be lying, shoeless, on the floor of a dark room with hypnotic music playing, but some people appear completely immersed. Soon, the dancers rise, and begin once again to dance jerkedly around the room. It seems to transform into a sort of electrifying, empowering rave; everyone around me dances and their bodies jolt, as if they have merged with the music. As the crowd, we are simultaneously individual beings and a mass, complex release of energy. Contrary to popular belief, "voodoo" actually has very little to do with so-called "voodoo dolls", rather, it exists as a sensationalised pop culture caricature of Voudon, an Afro-Caribbean religion - no doubt this is the best way to encapsulate what is embodied by the two performers at the height of the room's vitality.
The performance doesn't quite end - in the midst of all the dancing, the performers simply disappear, and the audience slowly filters out - all of which, I’m sure, leave with a sense similar to my own: of escaping a trap they hadn't realised they'd ever entered.
Edited by Alexia McDonald, Head of Digital