The James Cousins Company presents a retelling of Shakespeare’s As You Like it for The Place’s dance showcase at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Taking its origins from the play’s female protagonist, Rosalind was produced in collaboration with South Korean artists in Seoul, where the play premiered in 2016. The dance traces Shakespeare’s story of Rosalind who, after falling for the aristocrat Orlando, is exiled with her love to the Forest of Arden where she resides disguised as a shepherd named Ganymede. Originally commissioned as part of the British Council’s Shakespeare Reworked series, the dance seeks to explore Shakespeare’s work in an international context, replacing the Forest of Arden for the bustling South Korean metropolis of Seoul.
For this production, Cousins has used the city nightlife as representative of the forest, in which the couple could live freely. This setting is contrasted against the monotony of daytime life in which the four dancers (Chihiro Kawasaki, Heejung Kim, Gareth Mole, and Ryan Taylor) appear in grey suits, performing repetitive motions as if part of an assembly line. At night the writhing bodies of the dancers, each wrapped in nude corsets, move with frenetic energy through a flood of red light and rock music. These juxtaposing contexts demonstrate Cousins’ interest in the conservative tradition and youthful modernity both present in modern day South Korea.
Rosalind is performed by four dancers; one has role of Orlando while the rest of the company perform the many aspects of the heroine’s character, simultaneously exhibiting her power, strength and kindness. Slipping between costumes, the two male and two female performers dance as equals whilst in their nude corsets, but the wearing of gendered clothing creates a power imbalance. The female Rosalind appears tossed across the stage and stripped of her power by the male gaze as the poetry of Sabrina Mahfouz, which weaves amongst the musical score, recites “now I am a woman, or at least I am a woman as you like it to be”. James Cousins has not only choreographed a beautifully powerful physical connection between the bodies of the individual dancers, but has also incorporated an extraordinary use of facial acting that allows the audience to feel the pain, joy and longing of the characters.
Sexual fluidity and questions surrounding gender stereotyping are explored throughout the performance. The male pair frequently perform the same duet at as a female-male pairing, allowing the audience to reflect on the change in perceptions between the two identical routines. The choreography is used to emphasise the fluidity of gender roles, with women lifting men with a genderless confidence. Despite Rosalind drawing from a Shakespearean play, the performance of gender is still an incredibly important topic today. Transgender and non-binary individuals continue fighting for the right to occupy the same space as those who align to traditional male and female genders. The senselessness of this prejudice hits home as the voice reciting over the dancers proclaims “I am neither he nor she, just a person who chooses daily who to be”.
Rosalind was performed at Summerhall as part of the Edinburgh Fringe 2017.