Theatre at a glance: Dazzle Ships

Ryan Kerr's original dance piece is set to the music of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

Elizabeth Moody, Sarah McNeilly, Andrew Little, Kate Story, and Ryan Kerr performing in "Dazzle Ships", which runs from January 14 to 16 at The Theatre on King in downtown Peterborough (photo: Andy Carroll)
Elizabeth Moody, Sarah McNeilly, Andrew Little, Kate Story, and Ryan Kerr performing in Dazzle Ships, which runs from January 14 to 16 at The Theatre on King in downtown Peterborough (photo: Andy Carroll)

Do you remember the 1983 album Dazzle Ships by British pop band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark? Probably not. Most people don’t. However, it’s an album that has always stuck with Ryan Kerr, artistic director of The Theatre on King.

Kerr is reintroducing it to audiences this weekend with his original dance piece set to the entire album. Featuring Kerr along with Kate Story, Sarah McNeilly, Elizabeth Moody, and Andrew Little, Dazzle Ships brings audiences back to Thatcher-era England and 1980s’ Cold War paranoia.

Probably best known in North America for their hit “If You Leave”, which was pushed to the top of the charts as the theme song for the 1986 teen film classic Pretty in Pink, Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark (OMD) hit European stardom with their 1981 hits “Souvenir” and “Joan of Arc”.

However, they nearly threw it all away by following up with Dazzle Ships in 1983. A concept album using samples of shortwave radio recordings, Dazzle Ships had very few tracks that were radio friendly, and instead featured a collection of soundscapes and strange instrumentals.

The experiment was slammed by critics and fans alike at the time, and nearly killed OMD’s career. However, in recent years the album has been considered a lost classic and a masterpiece by music critics looking back at 1980s’ music.

In Kerr’s production, his performers take on mechanical and repetitive movements, seeming to represent the engines of ships and also reflecting the cycle of paranoia that the world faced during the 1980s, and we again find ourselves in today.

Esploring themes such as fear, isolation, war, sex, and paranoia, Dazzle Ships is an attempt to recreate attitudes about the Cold War in the 1980s, as well as own attitudes in our modern times of conflict. The end result is a beautiful — yet often bleak — emotional journey through music and movement.

Another unique artistic experience courtesy of The Theatre on King, Kerr’s Dazzle Ships is as bold as OMD’s original album. However, the real treat is for those who are unfamiliar with the album — they can discover it for the first time through this beautiful and moody performance.

All photos courtesy of Andy Carroll.

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Sam Tweedle
Since 2013, Sam Tweedle has been writing as an arts and culture journalist for kawarthaNOW, with special attention to Peterborough's theatrical community. However, his career as an arts writer goes back further via his website Confessions of a Pop Culture Addict where Sam has interviewed some of the entertainment world's most notable and beloved entertainers. Sam's pop culture writing has been featured in The New York Times, Newsweek, The National Post, CNN.com, Filmfax Magazine and The New Yorker. You can follow Sam on Instagram at sam_tweedle_z where he posts about his four greatest loves: cats, comic books, movies, and records. Sam no longer uses Twitter because, as far as he's concerned, it's no longer a thing.

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