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Bounce in Insane in the Brain

Posted on February 27, 2008

Coming from a music culture with built-in swagger, hip hop should be good at rebellion against authority. For their latest show, the Swedish street dance company Bounce has adapted One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. But the dancers’ hearts seem less in the story of psychiatric patients’ revolt than in the feelgood numbers they have managed to squeeze into the main plot.

Choreographed by the dancers, Insane in the Brain works through the events of Ken Kesey’s novel. When the inmates of this psychiatric hospital start to express themselves, egged on by free spirit McMurphy, they do it with hip hop. The repressed and repressive Nurse Ratched, forcing her patients to follow the rules, tries to teach them ballet. The soundtrack drives the action. Besides hits by Dizzee Rascal, Missy Elliott, Notorious B.I.G. and – for the title track – Cypress Hill, there are bursts of classical music, left plain or remixed. Per A. Jonsson’s grey, institutional set has a sloping back wall, something the dancers can climb or bounce off. Subjected to electric shock therapy, they do hip hop bungee dancing, the inmates shaken through the air, helmets clamped to their heads.

In that scene, story and style really do fit together. Most of the time, Insane in the Brain is lightweight. McMurphy, danced by Fredrik “Benke” Rydman, defies Nurse Ratched, but he’s goofy rather than angry. The dancing moves away from the show-stopping virtuosity of hip hop, without becoming character-driven dancing. Plodding storytelling gives us little more than an outline.

The show has most verve when it leaves its story behind. When the patients sneak out to a cinema, climbing down into the stalls to watch a real screen along with the audience, showing a street dance version of a silent movie. Tramp characters hold a dance battle with the movie’s respectable citizens, complete with an Edwardian lady swaggering through street moves.

Holding a secret party in the hospital, the patients take the show into a completely unexpected 1980s revival scene, complete with pastiches of Fame and Flashdance. It’s cheesy, but sometimes inventive: the toilet-fixated character ends up enacting the chair number from Flashdance. The strongest performance comes from guest dancer Teneisha Bonner as Nurse Ratched. Her solos “in private” do most to suggest the pent-up anger of the show’s theme. The rest of the company are slick and energetic, playing cheerfully to the audience.

Zoë was born in Edinburgh, and saw her first dance performances at the Festival there. She is the dance critic of The Independent, and has also written for The Independent on Sunday, The Scotsman and Dancing Times. In 2002, she received her doctorate from the University of York for a thesis on “Nationhood and epic romance: Ariosto, Sidney, Spenser”. She is the author of The Royal Ballet: 75 Years and The Ballet Lover’s Companion.

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