In our latest review from the London International Mime Festival, we cover a highly unusual show in which a solo performer uses a boxing ring as both stage and prop.

Before The Fall uses a boxing ring as both stage and prop.

Before The Fall uses a boxing ring as both stage and prop.

There is something terribly poignant in a person’s hand slipping from their own knee as they attempt to support themselves. Spitfire’s One Step Before The Fall occupies the space where defeat is imminent and the human spirit flails, rages and whimpers against the inevitable in a last attempt to drag itself from the brink. The programme notes inform us we are watching the story of Muhammad Ali’s fight with Parkinson’s and solo dancer Veronika Kotlikova’s attire and the boxing ring she constructs on stage signpost connection to the aforementioned sport. Ten minutes in, Kotlikova is simultaneously disintegrating and desperately, stoically rebuilding herself; the adversary and context seem wholly unimportant. One Step Before The Fall feels like it could be about any battle, and indeed any fighter who sets themselves up against something within their own self.

Someone exceedingly close and dear to me contends with a disease that threatens to rule her body every day, so watching this performance was always going to be personal. The solo female onstage, with her muscular physique jabs, jibes, whirls and crumbles with a conviction that has us truly feeling  the blows wrought by an invisible foe.  Kotlikova is both powerful and vulnerable and we’re rooting for her throughout from the gut.

Lit from above, there is something remotely yet startlingly crucifixion-like in the way her figure is highlighted among the shadows. The performance is so visceral you almost feel your own heart pounding – caught up in the place where she catches her breath, on the edge of tears, exhausted yet empowered and pushing through despite being stacked against heart breaking odds.  At times the choreography draws from recognisable boxing motifs, at others it deviates into more abstract realms but throughout the energy is unbearably high. Displaying immense control and stretched to breaking point, Kotlikova’s physical prowess is a marvel but it is the hand slipping from the knee that punches you hardest: her proud but imploring smile that begs for an impossible deliverance and her bona fide breathlessness when she wears herself into exhaustion.

The sweaty, throbbing confrontational 45 mins onstage is lifted to an altogether higher plane with live music from Lenka Dusilova. The acoustic, electronic, vocal soundscape loops and morphs, creating a wall of sound that deafens and elevates the audience, adding an almost spiritual element to the bodily struggle.

Image credit: Martin Marak