”A Wave of Sadness”
Paul Michael Henry’s latest project Shrimp Dance is a real labour of love. Four years ago, he discovered articles on the shrimp population which is being affected by the amount of anti-depressants washed up in coastal waters. What followed was years of research, in which he was in regular contact with Doctor Alex Ford from the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Marine Sciences, who had published his findings in scientific journals and magazines.The implications for the eco-system are incredible. He describes the situation as ‘a wave of sadness’, that human depression can fuel such a crisis on such an epic scale.
The performance, a work in progress at Dance Base in Edinburgh, sees him moving like a somnambulist, eyes closed as though in a trance, body flailing as he tries to stay upright. He veers from sheer terror to anxiety to acceptance, almost akin to going through stages of grief. Voice lowered almost to a whisper, he chants,’Soften your eyes… I am looking to find the moon in my blood’. The other performer with whom he shares the space, Misty Hannah, passes round a tiny shrimp and asks the audience to look at the spine and remember the inter-connectivity of humans and creatures.We are all part of the bigger picture, all complicit.
I wondered how to define the piece, as there are so many strands to it, with multimedia, sound and dance all interlaced together.As Paul Michael Henry explained to me: ‘It is a performance. It starts from the concept offered by Dr Ford’s research into anti-depressants and their effects on shrimp, and from the poetry I’ve found in that. My own background in Butoh dance, writing and music is informing how the piece is being created, but I also want to involve the audience as much as possible, and really don’t want to confine myself to any performance rules at this time.’
He goes on, ‘The form of the performance is intended as an organic outcome of the ideas behind it, realised through the most suitable media: body, language, collage, audience interaction.It’s been bubbling up inside of me for four years now and I don’t see myself getting sick of it or getting to the bottom of it,easily…I would love to tour it and keep learning through exposure of the work to audiences.’
Alongside the live performance, which also features audio visual work from Alex Mackay, is a clip from US TV show Red Eye where the panellists mock the findings and make sarcastic, ill-informed comments on the shrimp population. It is a bemusing scenario, suggesting that many people do not or will not comprehend the massive implications of the research. This sits in sharp contrast to the humane and thoughtful work created by the artists onstage.
A singular talent of grace and power, Paul Michael Henry’s new dance has the kind of quietude that unnerves and provokes in equal measure. He is planning on bringing Unfix Festival back in December, but in the meantime,Shrimp Dance really resonates- the kind of work that really stays lodged in your psyche- a timely and troubling, haunting piece.