Rehearsal for Death is a captivating dance/physical theatre work by Rebekah Stuart and Sophie Thompson. It is an abstract work, a series of vignettes capturing various experiences of death, grief and impermanence, in the context of life, joy and the infinite loop of repeating cyclical patterns. For a work with so little text/speech, it offers a substantial range of themes and imagery that can speak impactfully to the audience, even if there are differences in interpretation.
The show begins in darkness, in silence, and eases into ambient oceanic sounds. Stuart and Thompson lie star-shaped at one end of the stage, and follow gentle horizontal lighting diagonally across to the other end, a laboured crawling on their backs, reminiscent of beached starfish making their way back to the sea in a quest to survive. This initial imagery, which is quiet, slow, and suspenseful, sets the tone for the work as a piece that despite being about death, is constantly reaching for life. Almost urgently so; as if mindfulness of death makes it important that every living moment should count.
As the show progresses, the dancers’ bodies seem to come alive more and more, expressing all kinds of lively situations and routines through synchronized choreography and emotive expression. The sound/music is consistently soft, subtle, and in many places overpowered by the physicality of the piece. As the work progresses, though, it gets increasingly rhythmic and starts to sync perfectly with the intensity of the movement and creates a hypnotic effect. The lighting (by Jordan Carter), likewise, starts out subtle and grows towards high impact, especially in the later scenes where it plays as important a role as the physical movement. The photography scene, which is closely linked to the initial inspiration behind the creation of this piece, is powerfully executed, drawing powerful contrasts between what is authentic, what is fleeting, and what is preserved. Shadows are used as effectively as light in this show, and in one scene, it is impossible to draw one’s eyes away from the interaction of Stuart and Thompson’s shadows on the walls, speaking to each other from such a vast difference of size, while their physical bodies are both life-like and interacting from a place of equality.
Both dancers are extremely skilled, graceful, authentic, and an absolute delight to watch. Even when their choreography is synchronized and identical, their dance styles are so distinct and flowing with their own individual brand and character, that it is impossible to not want to keep your eyes on both dancers at all times. The comfort and chemistry that the two dancers share on stage conveyed great warmth, respect and friendship – whether that was part of the work or drawing from their real relationship I don’t know, but it deeply enriched the experience for me, and made their overarching theme of death all the more real, bringing it into the context of friendship, familiarity, and closeness.