Reviews London TheatreWest End & Central Published 8 November 2016

Review: Holy Smoke at the Southbank Centre

Southbank Centre ⋄ 4th - 5th November 2016

A pop shamanic spell like no other: Diana Damian Martin reviews Ultimate Dancer at the Southbank Centre.

Diana Damian Martin
Holy Smoke at the Southbank Centre.

Holy Smoke at the Southbank Centre.

Perfectly poised between the secular and the spiritual, Holy Smoke is a live experience that slowly takes over you, a pop shamanic spell like no other. Holy Smoke is ritual, magic and subtle critique, enchanting and amusing, drenched in scales and incantations.

Bringing together a team of arts practitioners, including percussionist and visual artist Fritz Welch, musician Jer Reid, and shamanist and performer Divina Kniest, Ultimate Dancer (choreographer Louise Ahl) pieces together a work examining the aesthetics, rituals and sonic journeys of shamanism in and through the body. Clad in robes and donning impressive headgear whilst plastering the space with smoke and releasing scrolls of text, Holy Smoke moves between humour and seriousness, between concept and exploration. It’s drenched in atmosphere, full of power, and glides between voice and body, sound and dissonance.

It also constructs a geometry of movement and sculpture, of bodies being elsewhere, of bodies recalling bodies, in a sonic architecture that slowly drowns out the everyday. You’d be fooled to think this is psychedelic nostalgia as Holy Smoke is an intelligent, embodied examination of processes of healing, of magic and sound, that probes our problematic cultural engagements with these rituals as much as their necessity, and their return to the body.

Holy Smoke invades difficult territory, asking questions about appropriation, fetishisation and commitment, as much as engaging with languages ancient and contemporary that sit at the crossroads of healing practices. It’s sonic dissonance, with language emerging in increments, between song and rhythm, movement and ritual. At times, recognisable pop music comes through (‘must be talking to an angel’), and at others, we experience rituals of elsewhere, at a distance and in proximity.

Holy Smoke was on at the Southbank Centre. Click here for more details. 


Diana Damian Martin

Diana Damian Martin is a London-based performance critic, curator and theorist. She writes about theatre and performance for a range of publications including Divadlo CZ, Scenes and Teatro e Critica. She was Managing Editor of Royal Holloway's first practice based research publication and Guest Editor for postgraduate journal Platform between 2012-2015. She is co-founder of Writingshop, a long term collaborative project with three European critics examining the processes and politics of contemporary critical practice, and a member of practice-based research collective Generative Constraints. She is completing her doctoral study 'Criticism as a Political Event: theorising a practice of contemporary performance criticism' at Royal Holloway, University of London and is a Lecturer in Performance Arts at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

Review: Holy Smoke at the Southbank Centre Show Info

Choreography by Louise Ahl

Cast includes Divina Kniest, Fritz Welch, Jer Reid and Ultimate Dancer



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