They move in mysterious ways: the delusional thrill of Figs in Wigs | To dance
HHow do you describe the joy of seeing people dance in unison? Anthropologists speak of synchronous activities leading to a feeling of “collective effervescence”; that lightness that we feel when we all move through time together – doing the macarena, maybe, or the YMCA – and winding it up as we need to bind family or tribe members to each other, to reinforce the sense of oneness that would once have been essential to survival.
The first thing I knew about Figs in Wigs was that they liked to dance in unison. A quintet of similarly dressed performers, they popped up whenever the night got pretty weird at Latitude Festival or at London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern. They wore DayGlo jumpsuits and matching fanny packs, straight faces, glittery painted monobrows. Watching Figs in Wigs dance was like listening to a foreign language, a semaphore of hopping and hand gestures that existed halfway between Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A and Whigfield’s Saturday Night. Dances made of pixels rather than steps. And like any synchronous dance act, there was a satisfaction in watching people move together in unison, but with Figs there was always something more: the thrill of the daring with which they were building their own. own path to dance, their own way of being together on stage.
Figs in Wigs aren’t really a dance troupe. While there’s dance in their shows, there’s also drama (sort of), comedy (sort of), celebrity impersonation (sort of) and sometimes homemade electro-punk (sort of). However, the same surrealist internal logic that structures their way of dancing extends to all facets of the show. She is present in their confusing aesthetic choices, in their jokes, in the helpless attitude with which they approach the increasingly absurd situations their shows create, like five brightly colored cartoon characters unable to see anything. odd that they sort of ended up in the real world. It is even present in the structuring of shows, which seem to follow a logic entirely conceived by themselves. Like a story told by a seven-year-old, they are full of false starts, prolonged diversions and endless repetitions. Scenes of unpredictable duration rapturously crash into each other like the Figs themselves, making an endless career on the stage. Yet none of this seems sloppy or accidental. It is all part of the unique world that Figs are in perpetual construction for themselves.
All of these facets of Figs’ stage presence boil down, in performance, to an expanded version of the feeling you get as you watch them dance together in unison. It’s thrilling in its strangeness, illuminated from within by collective effervescence, so that even when what’s going on seems chaotic or indecipherable, it has a logic you want to understand. It’s a world you want to be a part of.
And that’s what is so special about Figs in Wigs. At a time when financial constraints necessitated by a decade of austerity made independent theater, on the whole, smaller and more conventional in form and process, Figs fought, for nearly a decade, to make the biggest, most ambitious work they could. They did it with the same collaboration without compromise, entirely by collective agreement, without a director or screenwriter or really any significant outside influence. In doing so, they were able to create something unique – an unprecedented wacky theatrical universe, a world unto itself.
In this world, the most ordinary and miserable parts of reality are turned into ridiculous and spectacular things. In their recent show Little Wimmin, they take the arguably rather austere task of faithfully adapting the novel Little Women and transform it into a dizzying parade of surreal props: an ice fountain in the shape of a penis; a person disguised as a Christmas tree; a giant margarita cocktail, accompanied by five oversized straws. Their work is an act of appropriation. It’s the transformation of the reality around them into a world they might want to live in. A place of weirdness and color, sophisticated theory and childish jokes, attention and community and endless, flocked movement patterns.
If you’ve ever been on a protest march, you’ve probably thought or heard that it wouldn’t make a difference. That the message is unclear or unrealistic. But I think often it’s the walk itself that’s the point. We walk as a reaffirmation of community and solidarity, thus creating a space in which we can all live together, even temporarily. And when we leave, we take with us the feeling of this space, allowing the memory of it to inform our future actions, to change those actions for the better.
Figs in wig shows don’t seem to make much sense. Like a protest march, they are bright and loud, sometimes chaotic and devoid of any obvious message. And like a protest march, to criticize them on the basis of a perceived failure to communicate anything would be a misunderstanding of what is going on. Each Figs in Wigs show is a reaffirmation of the seductive universe they create for themselves. They don’t ask us to decode their weirdness, or even expect us to find it funny. Instead, they’re hoping the world they’ve created could temporarily expand outward to include the rest of us. That we can slip into the same strange rhythm. That we can shelter in the shelter of their strangeness from all the horror of the contemporary world – its competitiveness, its narcissism, its grim economic reality.
On theater stages and in cabaret bars, in five versions with an infinite number of costumes, they continue to act with the absolute conviction that they can live in a world they have created for themselves, and that we maybe also can. And that in itself is a provocative and gloriously radical act.