Sandwiched between the beachfront Sea Life centre and a giant funfair ride, Stopgap Dance Company’s The Seafarers managed to hold its own ground. Originally made in 2015 for the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, the open-air piece was revived by the Norfolk and Norwich festival for the marine parade at Great Yarmouth, again connecting to a local maritime history on which the tide has now turned.
The performance opened and closed conventionally enough, with formation numbers in which the dancers – 50 of them altogether, including groups from local schools alongside Stopgap’s own company of variously abled performers – executed upbeat, four-square sequences to up-tempo music by the neo-folk band Moulettes. Between these solidly choreographed slabs came a more poetic filling: a woman in a wheelchair winched on a rope like a hooked sea creature; a merry jig turned woozy as the dancers careened and lurched, as if losing their sea-legs to the pitch and yaw beneath their feet. And the sea itself seemed to tug at them until they stood gazing outwards, one empty wheelchair lying capsized beside them.
The longest scene was also the loveliest, a duet of sorts between David Willdridge, arms swiping at the empty air, and Hannah Sampson, roaming over the space and knocking at a wooden door erected to block rather than welcome her. Moulettes sang a lilting siren song while a chorus of dancers spelled its refrain in sign language – “someone you love will leave you” – as if decreeing this very destiny. The wind blew in off the sea, gulls cried high overhead and wheeled away, and suddenly the amusement arcades, pony rides and tea stalls seemed just the right setting for this poignant piece.