h I don’t eat meat, it’s probably not the night for me,” said the fourth consecutive person I tried to tell about my night at The Vaults the other week.
Not to fear, it’s a metaphor, folks. The meat is the clan of five female performers manoeuvring around the dining table on which you scoff a six-course (vegan or meaty) meal off. Clever, huh?
The five table-based performers are members of all female creative collective I AM, led by director Kate Marsh. She’s an artist, a choreographer, a fierce matriarch, and if you make your way to the Vaults any evening before June, you’ll find her sat in the middle of a cavernous banqueting hall in one of the venue’s upper-level tunnels.
Upon arrival, Kate will most likely be perched on a chair – fishnets, suspenders and velvet cape in check – thumping in time to the beat, looking nothing short of that little flame emoji. The rest of her team, all equally scantily-clad and donning some seriously killer kimonos, will be dotted around the room, lying on tables, between sets of cutlery and glasses of wine.W
e decide to check out the internationally acclaimed team in action. Alongside fifty others, we trickle into the dining hall, wide-eyed. Intrigued, yes, a little aroused, perhaps, slightly scared, probably. We resemble a coach-load of schoolboys, mistakenly taken on a field trip to a dystopian recreation of a Tudor palace.
Once we’ve all filed in, we timidly perch on our benches and coyly sip our wine. The lights drop, the music is turned up and the performers start to unfurl. Everything escalates pretty quickly from here. Kate saunters around the room interacting with her team, who are athletically, playfully and tempestuously evolving from their table-bound cocoons.They transform with acrobatic skill between various positions, rhythmically moving with the beat.
They interact with the audience at times and gaze through us at others. Each artist uses their meticulously sculpted body to shift between postures, expressing vulnerability, frustration, ecstasy, joy, and anger. It’s a dynamic expression of female sensuality and empowerment – and of course there’s not a metaphorical ‘piece of meat’ in sight.I
n the midst of all this, if you don’t feel overwhelmed enough already, you’ve now got to prize your jaw from the floor and make your way through a six-course meal. Yes, it’s time to negotiate your way around a knife and fork while all this magnificent femininity is downward dogging a matter of inches from the plate.
Six dishes are filtered out throughout the two-hour show, all constructed by Michelin-trained chef Chavdar Todorov. Each is small and complex: indulgent combinations like miso-glazed aubergine, dehydrated feta, garden peas and spearmint or seared Carpaccio of dry-aged tender beef with kohlrabi and puffed rice.
The food is worth a visit on its own, each finely-tuned dish bursting with flavour, but – and I can only speak for myself here – it’s difficult to concentrate on an orange-glazed daikon, and lightly spiced red lentil dahl, when there’s a trio of women masterfully utilising every muscle in their bodies to morph into a headstand in front of you.
On occasion the lights lower and the five women break from their solo routines to collaborate. Thumping tables, knocking over wine glasses as they do, they move in synchronicity. It’s surreal, sitting there, spooning yourself a silk-smooth scoop of chocolate ganache with all this raucous, femininity strutting around the room. There are times when you don’t know where to look, others when you can’t look away.
Lose track of the performance for a moment and someone might be crawling across the table towards you, another might be nabbing a sip of your wine or asking for you to give them a bite of your food. The artists are improvising, playing, teasing their audience, incorporating it all into a their act.Y
ou’re left feeling slightly gluttonous, slightly dumbfounded, a little bit in awe, definitely not hungry – but it is all so finely tuned and perfectly measured. It is an evening of utter indulgence, in fact, everything inundated with sights, tastes and sounds. This is primarily down to the utter infallibility of the performers’ sexuality.
If the room was choc-a-bloc with machismo attitudes – let’s imagine a coachload or two of lads (lads, lads) – there would be no leering or jeering, no opportunity to treat the performers as ‘meat.’ This troop of women are so ruthlessly empowered, so charged on their own skill and sensuality, talent and allure, their sculpted, fishnet-covered, corset-bounded bodies remain utterly impervious to any kind of degrading gaze.
An Evening of Meat is an exploration and ode to the female form as much as it is a call to empowerment. How do you stop being perceived as a piece of meat? You own your body, your mind, your sexuality and watch those constructed hierarchies crumble to your feet.