In 1518, an outbreak of dancing had took over the streets. Historical sources agreed that there was an outbreak of dancing after a single woman began gyrating to an unheard sound. Her name is lost but often she is called Frau Troffea. As time moved on, a group of people followed. Somewhere between 50 and 400 people in the end, took to dancing for days on end in the streets. Blooded feet, sweaty faces, exhausted limbs and a village over run by the menace soon caused a counter action. Many were shipped off to a local shrine in the hills. In the hope of a cure perhaps, or maybe more so, just to avoid public sensibilities overflowing to riot. The reasons for this event is still unclear. At the time, ideas were thrown around by the great and good. The godly and the medical minded. Some suggested demons, the devil, or angry spirits. Others saw it as an outbreak of imbalance, humours out of kilt.

These were all considered to blame for the horror of a week long Strictly come dancing horror fest. Gareth Brooks, creator of A Thousand Coloured Castles (2017) and The Black Project, returns with this spectacle at the heart of a story about family, gender, faith and fear.

Following the course of events. The first steps of Frau Troffea to the visitation of the healing shrine. We follow  from the perspective of Mary, a woman that as a child, was touched by god and now lives a miserable existence. She is witness to the unfurling events. Hundreds of Strasbourg’s inhabitants seized by the strange and unstoppable compulsion to dance. Her loutish husband ignores her suggestions of divine visitations. She had been betrothed to him under a cloud. Her mystic visions as a child, made her father turn against her. Deeming her to be a cursed child. Now the events are causing solutions and theories to over spill. Blamed are many, blameless few. Mary endures her life as an oppressed woman with uncommon grace and strength.

Gareth Brooks THE DANCING PLAGUE is less a record of the event, more a testament to the power of fear and fervour. Visually distinct, thanks to Brookes use of his pioneering blend of his trademark “pyrographic” technique. We get a journalistic rendering of the moment and movements of those involved. All capturing the bodies worn, bruised, haggard. Clothes and feet ripped to shreds. Blood dripping from the feet. From the sky. This is the most profound piece. The use of embroidery, revealing the visons of Mary, that the piece comes to the fore. Nightmarish often, the beasts come alive. Clawing and chewing. Contorting the bodies and the beings into odd shapes. Here religious and collective fervour coalesce into human gyration and it is captured in a darkly humanist tragedy. Now there are a few issues. It flags sometimes. Its use of the vernacular of the age centres the piece but also pulled me out. The unfamiliar is the issue but I will get over it.  The horror of the events is translated with such visual poetry make it a compulsive read. Modern theories abound on the cause of the events. Suggestions of mass hysteria, an over flowing of food poisoning and more. However THE DANCING PLAGUE tells us a human tale, avoiding the reasons and instead diving into the human costs of events.

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