What If I Told You

theatre review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
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What If I Told You
Published 16 Aug 2017

Choreographer and dancer Pauline Mayers’ performance starts with an invitation: that we join her on the stage and move round it with her. It’s an invitation that breaks down the invisible hierarchies between performer and audience and makes us equal in the space, breathing together, taking in each others’ presence.

But Mayers breaks down this equality, too. The idea that patterns through it is one of how black people’ bodies are seen differently. Dance is a genre that invites an audience to unapologetically scrutinise someone’s outlines and colours, to take aesthetic pleasure in their body. In Mayers’ case, choreographers she worked with felt able to define her by her skin colour, and to make her bear all the preconceptions that came with that. 

Mayers draws connections between this looking and the way that slaves in America were objectified and used. And, using recorded clips of radio debates, she ties it into the preconceptions that still cast white young people as high-spirited and black young people as dangerous, unknowable.

Working with director Chris Goode, Mayers creates a space that feels utterly gentle and open, one where she can put history into dialogue with her own past. There’s a lightness to her performance that almost gets overwhelmed by the post-show talk, which offers audience members a chance to speak, too, but with its carefully guided questions starts to feel a bit like a lesson in ‘reading’ the show. With a performance this moving, sometimes you just want to sit with the delicate, devastating mood it creates.