V&A Dundee

Music, movement, euphoria - creating the taboo performance

'taboo' is a performance co-designed by young people from across Dundee, developed and performed in V&A Dundee, inspired by the exhibition Night Fever: Designing Club Culture.

hidden route is a theatre company based in Dundee; they explore the unexpected and collaborate with people to make incredible things happen through exciting, engaging and empowering participatory theatre experiences and performance. Here co-Artistic directors Gemma Nicol and Lisa Williamson share their experiences of creating and collaborating to bring taboo to life.

VAD - How did the collaboration with V&A Dundee start?

GN & LW - As a theatre company we are passionate about site specific and site responsive performance because of the creative potential it offers to connect with non-traditional theatre spaces, the local community and new audiences. We love creating work with people which responds to our built and natural environments and explores how we engage with these on multiple levels.

We are always on the look out for new spaces to explore and create in, and Dundee has no shortage of inspiring buildings, architecture and outdoor spaces. V&A Dundee was always on our wish list; not only for the potential of responding to the architecture of the building itself, but we were also curious as to how we might immerse ourselves in the world of an exhibition to create a performance.

After several conversations with the brilliant Tracey Smith from the Learning department, we submitted a proposal for an intensive, inter-disciplinary performance project that would be co-created with young people in response to the Night Fever exhibition.

"The group were keen that the performance included both real and imagined stories, that it communicated the power of dance and music to bring people together, that it spoke of community, identity and the euphoria of shared experiences."

We were inspired by the idea that night clubs across the world have created spaces for alternative lifestyles and realities, where the nights are never ending and the rules are few and far between. They are famously places of experimentation. Where design, music, lights and fashion collide and create a Gesamtkunstwerk - a total work of art.

With taboo we wanted to explore what this means to young people in 2021, how can a group of young theatre-makers, designers and musicians take inspiration from the night clubs of the past and use them to create their own total work of art?

Tell us about the taboo performance and some themes it explored.

The performance itself was a collection of short vignettes which had been inspired by the physical spaces, text, video and music we discovered within the Night Fever exhibition. During the performance, the audience were invited to journey with the company through the exhibition where they experienced performance moments which included spoken word, dance, music, movement and autobiographical text.

The group were keen that the performance included both real and imagined stories, that it communicated the power of dance and music to bring people together, that it spoke of community, identity and the euphoria of shared experiences - which felt particularly resonant given the changes to the world we had all experienced recently.

Young people and designers collaborated during a co-design residency week in the museum - how did you create the performance together?

Our starting point was to first explore the exhibition and everything it had to offer; the text; the music; the images; the physical spaces; the fashion; the lights; the stories and questions. What made us curious? What excited us? What made us want to dance? What were the stories we wanted to tell in response to this and how did the exhibition speak to our own experiences?

In between playing and experimenting with movement and how we use architecture and design to frame our bodies, create pictures and physically begin to tell stories, we collectively collated our responses to the exhibition and used these as our creative springboard.

"Experiences like this matter because they open a door that can lead in so many directions - new friendships, boosted confidence, new skills, reinforced belief in our own creativity and different ways to see the world and those around us."

This involved taking these ideas and finding ways to communicate them through theatre, movement, music and costume design. We wrote text huddled in corners immersed in sound and light, we danced freely in vast open spaces curiously observed by members of the public, we recorded sounds and song, we stitched and glued fabrics of tartan, neon, and feathers around tables where conversation and laughter were easily shared.

It was an intense week where the communication between us all was really key and of course ultimately remembering that the most important thing of the whole week was to have fun.

What was it like to take over the museum spaces and Night Fever exhibition?

It was incredible! Having the opportunity to work so freely in such an iconic space and interact so closely with the exhibition felt very empowering. We are always interested in exploring the idea of who owns a space, whose stories do we hear and see in these spaces and how might these spaces become places of creative and artistic co-creation.

What was particularly noticeable through the week was the journey that the group took in terms of their relationship with the space. They started the week as guests and ended it as hosts.

Why do experiences like this matter?

The sheer scale of what can be achieved in a project like this is hard to imagine at the beginning. When you work with young people on a Monday and say ‘by Saturday we will have created a performance, designed and made our own costumes and created our own original music’, it sounds almost unbelievable. So when it happens, and the process getting there is so enriching, creative and fun, it can be immensely powerful.

We believe this project enabled each group member to follow their own creative interests and determine their own artistic journey through the week. For some, that was about focussing on the creation of the music, for others they discovered a new love for making costumes or performing their own spoken word. Together, we pushed ourselves creatively, we supported each other through the week, we made new connections and strengthened old ones and, most importantly, we had a laugh.

Experiences like this matter because they open a door that can lead in so many directions - new friendships, boosted confidence, new skills, reinforced belief in our own creativity and different ways to see the world and those around us.

What highlights or memories will stay with you?

It has to be after the first performance in front of a public audience, the culmination of a whole week of making, creating, and designing, one of the group members came up to us, full of the post-performance glow and mildly out-of-breath and said, ‘now I know I’m capable of anything’.