The Swarm at Vault FestivalCultureTheatre
There is something buzzing in the belly of Waterloo station. Bees search for a new home for their deposed Queen, shifting as a single organism as they inspect the city. Or at least that’s what the programme for The Quorum’s The Swarm describes; in all honesty, without the reading material provided it can be pretty hard to follow the abstracted narrative of this “choral celebration of bees”.
Understandably, given the nature of the piece most of The Swarm‘s references are musical. The hypnotic rhythms are reminiscent of both The Knife (specifically the Swedish duo’s Darwin opera Tomorrow, in a Year) and the droning of Holly Herndon. Its ecological nature, meanwhile, recalls a more hopeful version of Anohni’s Hopelessness, especially the final, lyrical moments where “spinning in the boundless orbit of love” the swarm creates a “new, inverted city/hanging down from the sky/the bones and flesh of our new body/together”.
One theatrical touchstone that does come to mind is Anne Carson’s Bakkhai, staged in a production by James Macdonald at the Almeida in 2015. Carson’s version of Euripides’s play featured an all-female chorus, a chanting, swaying beacon of sisterhood that had a similar power to the Vault Festival’s underground hive.
When The Swarm steps away from these choral aspects things get bit sloppier. The movement, which should help to clarify what is going on, feels under-choreographed, while Heloise Tunstall-Behrens’s sporadic voiceover as the Queen Bee sounds like a cross between Galadriel in Lord of the Rings when she gets angry and a JRPG final boss.
Yet, even if The Swarm doesn’t quite feel connected to its ostensible narrative, there is still something elemental about the performance. Cloaked in identical oxblood dresses, with gold circles shimmering on their faces, the nine members of the choir are like a sonic cult of the mother nature, mounting a ceremony that ends not in sacrifice but renewal.
The Swarm is at Vault Festival from the 8th until 12th February 2017, for further information or to book visit here.